Portland Enacts Strongest Facial Recognition Bans in US

Posted September 9, 2020, 11:22 PM

The first in the nation to ban corporations from using facial recognition on the public, Portland, Oregon has set a new national standard in biometric privacy and freedom from surveillance.

On Wednesday, September 9, the Portland, Oregon City Council passed two ordinances to ban the use of facial recognition by both public and private entities. This ban, the strongest in the country, is the first to prohibit corporations from using facial recognition in "places of public accommodation". Despite vigorous lobbying efforts from business and tech interests including Amazon, which spent $24,000 in an attempt to defeat the ordinances, Portland has set a new national standard.

"This is a major victory for everyday people," said Lia Holland (she/her), a Portland resident and activist with Fight for the Future. "Facial recognition is akin to nuclear weapons in terms of its benefit to the public—there is none, only a threat. Now, cities across the country must look to Portland and pass similar bans of their own. And Congress should act to pass bans at the federal level. We have the momentum, and we have the will to beat back this dangerous and discriminatory technology."

Both bans passed with a unanimous vote.

"Here, in Portland, we’ve seen freedom of expression being treated as grounds for punishment," Holland said during the hearing. "Black Lives Matter protesters in New York, in Miami, and more have been singled out using facial recognition…This is the perfect tech for tyranny, it is perfect for public control. Passing these bans is how you stand against fascism."

"Corporate use of facial recognition has the potential to be just as dangerous and discriminatory as government and law enforcement use, but with the motivation to manipulate consumers instead of oppress them. These companies are drooling to exploit all the personal details only facial recognition could unlock." Holland also spoke to the corporate ban during the hearing. "Even seemingly innocuous uses of facial recognition, like speeding up lines or using your face as a form of payment, normalize the act of handing over sensitive biometric information and pose a serious threat to security and civil liberties. Imagine being misidentified as a shoplifter at Rite Aid and when you go to pick up your prescription, the doors won’t open. No court, no recourse. Just an algorithm purposely made too complex to scrutinize."

 Activists collected over 1,200 signatures from residents in support of both ordinances, and drove over 100 emails to the city council in protest of a proposed exception that would allow airlines like Delta to collude with Customs and Border Protection to collect facial recognition data on domestic and international travelers at the Portland International Airport. At least 350 testimony comments from Oregonians were emailed to the city in the 24 hours prior to the vote. 

 City Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty has a statement up saying, "With these concerning reports of state surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists and the use of facial recognition technology to aid in the surveillance, it is especially important that Portland prohibits its bureaus from using this technology. #FacialRecognition tech, with its gender and racial bias and inaccuracies, is an intrusion on Portlanders’ privacy. No one should have something as private as their face photographed, stored, and sold to third parties for a profit. No one should be unfairly thrust into the criminal justice system because the tech algorithm misidentified an innocent person." 

The ordinances are available in full here: https://www.portlandmaps.com/bps/mapapp/