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Portland, ravaged by civil unrest, launches most stringent ban on facial recognition in the U.S.

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Everton Bailey Jr.

The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

The Portland City Council unanimously approved bans on city and private use of facial recognition technology Wednesday — the strictest such restriction in the country.

The private ban, which includes by businesses in the city, would go into effect Jan. 1. The ban on use by city departments goes into effect immediately. The state of Oregon already bans police from using body cameras with facial recognition technology.

The ban wouldn’t apply to private individual uses, such as the Face ID feature on iPhones.

Jacksons Food Stores has been using facial recognition technology at three stores in Portland. It scans customers’ faces before letting them into the business. On Wednesday, the Portland City Concil voted to ban use of the technology by city agencies and private businesses, the broadest restriction on the technology use in the country.

But it prohibits businesses from collecting, using or storing people’s facial or biometric information gathered in spaces open to the public, such as parks or grocery stores.

Portland officials point to concerns over residents’ civil rights and privacy as reasons for the bans. They also cite studies that show the technology is marred by racial and gender bias.

San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley are among those that have banned use of facial recognition by police departments and other local government agencies.

The Portland ordinances were introduced by Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who has said the issue comes down to racial justice and the community’s right to privacy.

Before voting the approve the bans, Hardesty said she believed it will be “model legislation” that the rest of the country will be looking to replicate.

“We own our privacy and it’s our obligation to make sure that we’re not allowing people to gather it up secretly and then sell it off for either profit or for fear-based activities,” she said.

The city has at least one business that uses facial recognition technology. Jacksons Food Store has at least three locations where customers’ faces are scanned to open the front door.

The company told The Oregonian/OregonLive pictures of customers’ faces are temporarily stored and access to the business could be denied to anyone who threatens employees or shoplifts.

This story will be updated.

— Everton Bailey Jr.

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©2020 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

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