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For those who were too busy enjoying the glorious sunshine in London yesterday, you may have missed the headlines about San Francisco’s outright ban of facial recognition tech for security surveillance purposes. The ban was brought on by widespread concern about the expansion of government surveillance and potential issues with profiling bias. While concerns over the increasing amount we are all monitored by technology are entirely justified, it is a little hard to digest the idea of San Francisco, home of social liberty and Silicon Valley, and a hub of surveillance tech, making such a sweeping (and pioneering) decision.

Unsurprisingly, opponents of the ban have been quick to extoll the value of facial recognition, highlighting its growing use in criminal suspect verification and a slowly improving success rate in this regard. Proponents, however, point to China as an example of what could happen if ‘Big Brother’ gets a little too into his steroids. Facial and video recognition is reportedly now used to monitor everything from childhood attentiveness in the classroom to isolating petty thieves in real time. The most dystopic Chinese AI project (that we’re aware of anyway) is a plan to roll out facial recognition system linked to the government database of 1.3 billion (yes, with a B) ID cards. Orwellian, we know. And it’s particularly punchy given the tech itself is still in its relative infancy (yes, your iPhone’s unlocking capabilities really aren’t that impressive). Closer to home, the Met police are currently trialling facial recognition cameras rigged to police vans in East London in order to locate suspects in ongoing criminal investigations. As you can see in the video, it is hitting mixed results!

We’re not sure an outright ban on tech is ever the optimal solution – one to watch in the news and see whether other cities (or states for that matter) follow suit…

San Francisco’s facial recognition technology ban, explained

Understanding the connotations of San Francisco banning facial recognition technology for surveillance.

Could facial recognition cut crime?

(Video) Metropolitan police are experimenting with similar software in East London.

Drones, facial recognition and a social credit system: 10 ways China watches its citizens

This is all about how China uses facial recognition (among other methods) to monitor its population.

If you’re not too busy watching the Game of Thrones finale, and you’re interested in pop culture facial recognition, check out Black Mirror (generally) but specifically “Nosedive” Season 3, Episode 1. Minority Report is also an early 2000’s Tom Cruise classic! Both available on your favourite streaming services.

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