Having apparently solved all other problems plaguing society, the City Council in Oakland made a bold move this week to get the bad guys under control. Of course, the “bad guys” in this case are in their own police department. Rather than improving their ability to fight crime, they voted to make it illegal for their law enforcement agencies to acquire any form of facial recognition software. That should teach those men and women in blue a lesson. (NY Post)
The Oakland City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to prevent city employees, including the police, from using or acquiring facial recognition technology.
Amid increasing scrutiny of the technology, which has been labeled as biased by lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Oakland joined San Francisco and Somerville, Mass., which both passed similar bans this year.
A report prepared by City Council President Rebecca Kaplan cited limitations of the technology, the lack of standards around its implementation and its potential use in the persecution of minorities.
Right up front, it’s worth noting that the Oakland PD doesn’t even have any facial recognition software, so this is a solution in search of a problem. But they have been urging the Council and the Mayor to keep the option open if they find a system they both trust and can afford. Clearly, that message fell on deaf ears.
The Council is attempting to justify the ban based on three primary complaints they have about the technology. They are as follows:
1. The technology is prone to errors and suspect in terms of the results it produces.
2. It’s potential use in the persecution of minorities.
3. It is subject to “authoritarian abuse” as part of a surveillance state.
On the first score, they definitely have a point. Facial recognition is still in its relative infancy in terms of products ready for general availability. Amazon’s Rekognition software has been found through independent testing to be laughably bad at correctly identifying anyone who isn’t a white male, with particularly dismal results in picking out black females. But it’s getting better, and will eventually catch up in usability. Until it does, I would also argue that the “risks” coming from misidentifications are minimal, as a human being seeking to use the results will be able to quickly recognize that the person identified doesn’t look much like the suspect being sought.
As for as the concerns over abuse of the system to persecute minorities or carry out politically motivated hit jobs against particular groups, that’s something that could theoretically be done. But if that’s your concern, it means that you believe your cops are a bunch of corrupt evildoers looking to carry out some monstrous plan. And if that’s how you feel, why haven’t you fired them yet and hired some better cops?
What this bill (and others like it around the country) really represents is virtue signaling to the liberal base, feeding into their worst tendencies toward paranoia regarding law enforcement. The Oakland City Council is “solving” problems they don’t even have, kneecapping their own cops and ignoring the real problems of homelessness and filth plaguing their city.