Facial recognition software is becoming more pervasive, with it already featuring on some notebooks and a number of flagship smartphones as an added layer of biometric security. It’s also being touted for use in smart cities, but the ethical issues it raises are giving some pause for thought.

Especially those in San Francisco, which is the first city in the United States to vote to ban government agencies from using facial recognition software.

As reported by The Verge, the city’s board of supervisors voted eight to one in favour of the banning proposal, which is expected to take effect from next month.

Along with banning government agencies, the newly passed proposal would force the city’s agencies to get approval in order to implement their own facial recognition services in San Francisco.

According to supervisor Aaron Peskin, who headed up the board on this matter, the vote to ban such software or tools was not, “an anti-technology policy,” but rather “an ordinance about having accountability around surveillance technology.”

As such he acknowledged the important role that facial recognition software can play in making a city more secure for its residents, but noted that the tools that are put in place need to be properly regulated.

With facial recognition heavily dependent on artificial intelligence and machine learning in order to make decisions, one of the main ethical issues around the software hinges upon diversity and bias, both of which are factors underpinning any AI development at the moment.

To that end, while a facial recognition tool can accurately identify an individual, the actions it takes with said information, particularly in terms of bias, is harder to determine.

Much like San Francisco’s board of supervisors, we think the applications and potential for facial recognition are exciting, but they need to be tempered with the right kinds of regulations.

It should be interesting to see if other major cities in the US, and the globe, follow San Francisco’s lead.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]