On September 9, 2020, the Portland City Council voted to ban facial recognition. The new law is actually established as two ordinances, which ban both public and private use of the technology. Now, government agencies can no longer use facial recognition and private sector entities (like a bank or a restaurant) will not be able to install cameras for facial recognition purposes in public areas of their establishments.
Portland City Council members unanimously passed the two ordinances, making the ban the most comprehensive ever enacted in the United States. Indeed, Boston, San Francisco and Oakland have banned the use of facial recognition but only for public institutions.
The ban on private use takes effect starting on January 1, 2021, while the ban by public entities goes into effect immediately. As a reminder, the state of Oregon already banned police use of body cameras that relied on facial recognition technology.
Portland City Council’s main motivation is that this technology should not be misused by the police.
Facial recognition is a technology that raises many debates, including in relation with the issue of discrimination.. Indeed, facial recognition software has been found to have age, race, and ethnic biases, leading to questions about civil liberties and misidentification of individuals by law enforcement.
“Portlanders should never be in fear of having their right of privacy be exploited by either their governments or by a private institution” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said during a hearing Wednesday.
The decision is adopted against the background of violent clashes between the police and the protesters, on the sidelines of rallies against racism and police violence. The ACLU expressed support for this law: “We hope the passage of this landmark legislation in Portland will spur efforts to enact statewide legislation that protects all Oregonians from the broad range of ways that our biometric information is collected, stored, sold, and used without our permission” said Jann Carson, (interim executive director of the ACLU of Oregon).