Joe Buglewicz for The New York Times

Statement on San Francisco’s Ban of Facial Recognition Technology

By Joel P. Engardio

Instead of an outright ban, Stop Crime SF believes a moratorium would have been more appropriate. We agree there are problems with facial recognition ID technology and it should not be used today. But the technology will improve and it could be a useful tool for public safety when used responsibly and with greater accuracy. We should keep the door open for that possibility. Especially when facial recognition technology can help locate missing children, people with dementia and fight sex trafficking.

We are disappointed there was not an exemption for large public events. San Francisco has a LGBTQ Pride parade and a Lunar Chinese New Year parade that draw hundreds of thousands of people. We want those events to be as safe as the New Year’s Eve celebration in New York’s Times Square. If the world knows San Francisco isn’t using the same technology as other cities to keep our city safe, then we make ourselves an open target for terrorism.

Stop Crime SF and its more than 500 members appreciate that supervisors accepted two key amendments we pushed for. We wanted the law to clearly state that police would be able to both receive and use private security video from homes and businesses. The law originally never mentioned “use.” We also wanted to make sure police could continue using existing technology while the Board of Supervisors decided whether to approve a technology policy submitted by police. There was a dangerous loophole that would have required police to cease using all technology if the Board couldn’t agree on approval within 180 days. Thankfully, that was fixed by amendment. Advocacy by Stop Crime SF members helped close loopholes and make the law better.

Joel Engardio
Vice President
Stop Crime SF

News Coverage Highlights

New York Times
Joel Engardio, the vice president of Stop Crime SF, said that he agreed that current facial recognition technologies were flawed, but said that the city should not prohibit their use in the future, if they were improved.
“Instead of an outright ban, why not a moratorium?” Mr. Engardio asked. “Let’s keep the door open for when the technology improves. I’m not a fan of banning things when eventually it could actually be helpful.”

NPR Morning Edition
In San Francisco, Joel Engardio wishes his city would keep the door open to responsible uses of the technology. “There’s got to be a balance that actually works where you can be both safe and free.” He helps run a group called Stop Crime SF, formed in response to rampant car break-ins. He says as more residents send in video clips from their home security cameras, facial recognition could help the police identify suspects more easily. That’s why he wishes the city would consider a temporary moratorium rather than an outright ban. “When you’re in a political climate where your default is to just ban something, then you preclude yourself from actually using the benefits of a technology.”

NPR
Some local activists say the legislation goes too far, and that there should be a moratorium on the technology instead of a ban.
Joel Engardio is vice president of the grassroots group Stop Crime SF. “We shouldn’t be using it right now,” Engardio told NPR. The failure rate is too high, and so we absolutely agree with the spirit of this law, but instead of a ban, like a forever ban, why not just stop using it for now, and keep the door open for when the technology improves.”

CNN
Some locals have been vocally opposed to the surveillance ordinance, including several groups of residents. Frank Noto, president of Stop Crime SF, a group focused on crime prevention, said prior to the vote that his organization recognizes privacy and civil-liberties concerns that may have prompted the ordinance’s introduction, but sees it as flawed legislation largely because it requires the police department to get approval from the city for existing surveillance technology.
After the ordinance passed, Stop Crime SF vice president Joel Engardio said that overall the legislation is “necessary and helpful” though it “could have been better.”
And while Stop Crime SF sees the faults in existing facial-recognition technology, it’s also concerned about prohibiting its use entirely. The group believes a moratorium on using it might be a better option so that it’s possible to use the technology when it improves.
“When responsibly used, it could be a good public safety tool,” Engardio said.

Associated Press (AP)
Local critics of San Francisco’s legislation, however, worry about hampering police investigations in a city with a high number of vehicle break-ins and several high-profile annual parades. They want to make sure police can keep using merchants and residents’ video surveillance in investigations without bureaucratic hassles.
Joel Engardio, vice president of grassroots group Stop Crime SF, wants the city to be flexible.
“Our point of view is, rather than a blanket ban forever, why not a moratorium so we’re not using problematic technology, but we open the door for when technology improves?” he said.

San Francisco Chronicle
Local advocacy group Stop Crime SF said the city should have considered a moratorium on the technology, rather than an outright ban.
“We agree there are problems with facial recognition ID technology and it should not be used today,” Joel Engardio, the group’s vice president said in a statement. “But the technology will improve and it could be a useful tool for public safety when used responsibly and with greater accuracy. We should keep the door open for that possibility.”

San Francisco Examiner
Some critics of the proposal like Stop Crime SF, a group that advocates for tougher punishment for those who commit neighborhood crimes, opposed an outright ban on facial-recognition technology.
“We agree there are problems with facial recognition ID technology and it should not be used today,” said Joel Engardio, vice president of Stop Crime SF. “But the technology will improve and it could be a useful tool for public safety when used responsibly and with greater accuracy. We should keep the door open for that possibility.”
“We are disappointed there was not an exemption for large public events,” he added.

BBC
“Instead of an outright ban, we believe a moratorium would have been more appropriate,” said Joel Engardio, vice-president of Stop Crime SF. “We agree there are problems with facial recognition ID technology and it should not be used today. But the technology will improve and it could be a useful tool for public safety when used responsibly. We should keep the door open for that possibility.”

Wired
There was little organized opposition to the proposal, but one local group, Stop Crime SF, argued a ban would remove a potential deterrent to property crime and impact the collection of evidence. The legislation was amended to clarify that private individuals can still share tips with law enforcement, although agencies can’t actively solicit information that they know comes from a facial-recognition system.
Joel Engardio, vice president of Stop Crime SF, says he’s largely satisfied with the amended bill. “We agree with the concerns that people have about facial ID technology. The technology is bad and needs a lot of improvement,” he says. While the group would have preferred a moratorium while the city worked out regulations, rather than a ban, he says he supports the broader set of surveillance rules.

Forbes
As a middle ground, neighborhood groups, such as Stop Crime SF, are calling for a moratorium instead of an outright ban. They want to revisit the issue when the technology improves because it can be instrumental in finding missing children or victims of human trafficking, said Joel Engardio, Stop Crime SF vice president, in an email.
Stop Crime SF tried and ultimately failed to get an exception for large public events, such as LGBTQ Pride and the Lunar Chinese New Year parade . “If the world knows San Francisco isn’t using the same technology as other cities to keep our city safe, then we make ourselves an open target for terrorism,” Engardio said.

ABC-7 News
San Francisco resident and vice president of Stop Crime SF Joel Engardio opposes the ban and says it’s needed for large scale events. “If people know that we are not using certain technology, then we become an open target.”

Originally published at http://www.engardio.com on May 14, 2019.

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Forward-thinking + pragmatic Democrat, civil liberties advocate, award-winning journalist, Westside SF homeowner. My local views at www.engardio.com/issues

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Joel Engardio

Forward-thinking + pragmatic Democrat, civil liberties advocate, award-winning journalist, Westside SF homeowner. My local views at www.engardio.com/issues