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San Francisco Fine Tunes Facial Recognition Policy (Corrected)

Dec. 10, 2019, 11:08 PMUpdated: Dec. 11, 2019, 2:20 PM

San Francisco is moving to loosen its first-in-the-nation facial recognition ban to acknowledge the technology embedded in their government-issued Apple Inc. phones and tablets.

The Board of Supervisors Dec. 10 unanimously approved an amendment stating that the city can’t be sued for violating the ban when employees use software or products that contain facial recognition, which can’t be deleted from the Apple devices they use for their jobs. Employees still cannot use facial recognition technology. The city must respond within 30 days of being notified of a violation for that safe harbor to kick in.

The supervisors’ vote shows that jurisdictional bans on facial recognition technology can be complicated to carry out. San Francisco’s amendment only applies to city-issued devices. The amendment creates a municipal market for devices that don’t have the technology embedded in it, said Aaron Peskin, the supervisor who sponsored the legislation. San Francisco also must make written findings that the city will never use that technology.

The board has scheduled a final vote Dec. 17 that would send the proposal to Mayor London Breed (D), who would have 10 days to sign it, veto it, or let it become law without her signature. The amendment would go into effect on Jan. 16. Breed is expected to sign it.

San Francisco and nearby California cities led the facial recognition ban movement this year. Oakland amended its surveillance policy to prohibit the technology and Berkeley enacted a similar restriction. The city of Somerville, Mass., has also approved a ban.

California approved a ban of biometric surveillance with police officer cameras. That prohibition, which gives citizens the right to sue for violations, goes into effect Jan. 1, 2023. Amendments to the San Francisco law also permit suing if the city doesn’t correct for the alleged violation within 30 days of notification.

(Corrects amendment description in Dec. 10 story)

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at
To contact the editor on this story: John Hughes at; Keith Perine at