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San Francisco Poised to Ban Facial Recognition Technology

San Francisco may become the first city to ban facial recognition technology for government use.

San Francisco may become the first city to ban facial recognition technology for government use. Monopoly919/Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | A push to end classroom political discussions in Arizona … Cleveland looks at its tax abatement program … A city council in Utah considers an anti-abortion resolution.

San Francisco is poised to become the first city in the U.S. to ban any government use of facial recognition technology. The bill has already passed a committee vote and is headed to the Board of Supervisors for final approval, where it is expected to pass. “The propensity for facial recognition technology to endanger civil rights and civil liberties substantially outweighs its purported benefits, and the technology will exacerbate racial injustice and threaten our ability to live free of continuous government monitoring,” the proposed ordinance reads. In addition to prohibiting the use of the technology, the measure also requires city agencies to post a public notice and seek approval from the board before purchasing any surveillance technologies like predictive policing software and cell phone surveillance towers. Tracy Rosenberg, the director of the local nonprofit Media Alliance said that some small businesses were concerned that “they wouldn’t be able to give video from their private surveillance camera to be able [to help the police] catch shoplifters.” But board members cited the many other ways to use video to catch criminals outside of facial recognition, including scanning for car license plates. The San Francisco Police Department does not currently use facial recognition software, which Brian Hofer, the chairman of the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission, says makes it the perfect time to work on legislation. “The genie’s not out of the bottle yet,” he said. David Stevenson, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department, said that the police “welcome safeguards to protect [civil] rights while balancing the needs that protect the residents, visitors and businesses of San Francisco.” [Slate; San Jose Mercury News]

POLITICAL SPEECH IN CLASSROOMS  | In Arizona, an initiative filed with the Secretary of State’s Office would require classrooms to adopt a “code of conduct” that prohibits public school teachers talking about politics, including campaigns and legislation. Republican state Rep. Mark Finchem could not get a hearing on his bill in the state legislature, but has filed with the Secretary of State in order to get the issue on the 2020 ballot. Backers would need to gather 237,645 valid signatures. “I think that some of the folks in the media have underestimated the level of anger, seething anger, that parents and teachers have over kids that are getting bullied [related to political beliefs] in the classroom,” Finchem said. But Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, doesn’t believe the task of maintaining classroom rules should fall to legislators. “This is something where we elect governing boards to provide guidance at the district level,” he said. If the ban, if it is ever implemented, would not apply to “historical political matters” before 1971. [Arizona Capitol Times; Phoenix New Times]

TAX ABATEMENTS | The Cleveland City Council has funded a study to investigate how the city uses tax abatements to incentivize developers to build in the Ohio city. The tax abatement program provides a 15-year hold on increases in real estate taxes that happen due to property improvements on both new and existing construction. The results of the study could be used to change housing policy, perhaps by giving more incentives to builders in low-income neighborhoods, as the current system is used mainly in more prosperous areas of the city. “Housing is complicated, and this study is going to give us good factual data,” said council member Matt Zone. “This initiative is not about doing away with tax abatement. It’s about doing it in an equitable fashion.” Daniel Shoag, a professor of economics at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, said that tax abatements can help or hurt the local economy and that this study could assist policymakers as they figure out “how to better target the abatement.” [Cleveland News; News5 Cleveland]

ABORTION | A city council in Utah is considering a resolution declaring that “life begins at the moment of conception” and stating the city’s opposition to abortion. The debate in Riverton, which is 20 miles outside of Salt Lake City, has sparked controversy over whether a city council should be involved in such a debate. As the state enters a federal legal fight with the ACLU and Planned Parenthood over their new law that restricts abortion to 18 weeks, councilwoman Tawnee McCay, the resolution's sponsor, said that the resolution is intended to "send a message to the state that our city agrees with this, our city cares about the unborn." Though the resolution seeks to honor the right of healthcare providers to decline to participate in abortion procedures over moral objections, McCay said that she “tried to make it so it wasn’t polarizing or too political.” Lauren Simpson, policy director of the Alliance for a Better Utah, called the resolution “wildly inappropriate.” “The expectation is that local leaders are supposed to be dedicated to solving local community problems,” she said. “So passing a resolution that says life begins at conception…is a total betrayal of what a city council is supposed to be focused on.” [The News Tribune; The Salt Lake Tribune]

CHILD ADVOCACY | South Carolina unveiled a brand new department of children’s advocacy, which will oversee services from the departments of mental health, juvenile justice, disabilities, and more. Starting July 1, the state’s new department, led by Amanda Whittle, will be tasked with “develop[ing] a broad vision for reform, driven by the values and goals of child-serving agencies, to make the services and programs provided by state agencies more effective for children, youth, families and communities." Whittle previously worked as an attorney with the Department of Social Services. [WCSC; ABC Columbia]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty. 

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