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A work session on a proposal to ban facial recognition technology by private businesses in Portland is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17

WHAT IS HAPPENING? The Portland City Council will be briefed on a proposal to ban the private use of facial recognition technology in Portland during a work session scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17.

The ban is being drafted by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability at the request of Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. As reported on Thursday, Sept. 5, by the GeekWire news site, it could be the most far-reaching such ban in the country. Cities already banning the technology include San Francisco, Oakland, California, and Somerville, Massachusetts.

WHAT IS FACIAL RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY? As described by GeekWire, facial recognition technology "employs artificial intelligence to match the faces of real-life people to images in databases. These biometric identification technologies are used by some cities for law enforcement and surveillance purposes, in public schools for security purposes and, increasingly, in workplaces, stores or other commercial spaces."

Although being developed by law enforcement agencies and private companies to identify both criminal suspects and to streamline retail and other commercial services, the technology also has attracted a lot of criticism from privacy and civil rights advocates, in part because it is being used by the Chinese government to track Muslims, and also because of race- and gender-related misidentification problems.

More than 30 activist groups recently asked Congress to ban law enforcement from using the technologies.

WHY DOES HARDESTY WANT TO BAN IT? Hardesty told GeekWire, "No one should be unjustly harassed by this technology, nor should anyone have to worry about their face being scanned, stored and sold by companies. I look forward to working with my colleagues on what really is a privacy and civil rights matter."

In preparation for the work session, the city's Smart City PDX program and the Office of Equity and Human Rights recently hosted an invitation-only Surveillance Technologies Community Forum with representatives from government, nonprofit, academic and private business arenas. Ideas generated during the event will be shared with the council at the work session.

"This work session will focus on facial recognition. However, the intention of the privacy work group coordinated by Smart City PDX and Office of Equity and Human Rights (OEHR) is to develop more comprehensive policies that include other surveillance technologies.

"Such policies would need to include procedures for responsible use, procurement, due diligence and due care of technological solutions to minimize negative impacts in our communities," said a bureau memo submitted to the council before the work session.

Although the Portland Police Bureau is not using the technologies, the Washington County Sheriff's Office is experimenting with them.

WHAT CAN I DO? You can learn more by watching the work session in person, on community TV, or on the City Auditor's website, where it will be streamed live and then archived for replaying. The video page can be found at

The council has not yet scheduled a hearing on the proposed ban.

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