Portland Becomes First US City To Ban Government’s Facial Recognition

by : Cameron Frew on : 10 Sep 2020 10:21
Portland Becomes First US City To Ban Government's Facial RecognitionPortland Becomes First US City To Ban Government's Facial RecognitionPA

Portland has become the first US city to ban the government and other ‘private entities’ from using facial recognition in public places.

Oregon lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favour of the ban yesterday, September 9, with a unanimous decision on the dual ordinances – one aimed at the technology’s use on a government level, the other targeting corporations and other ‘private institutions’.

While facial recognition has seen a sharp uptick in recent years via the ubiquity of smartphones, people have raised concerns over its use in other areas, whether it be police departments or other businesses, with fears it could be an infringement on civil rights.

Portland Mayor Ted WheelerPortland Mayor Ted WheelerPA Images

The City of Portland ordinance notes the technology ‘raises general concerns around privacy, intrusiveness, and lack of transparency. The lack of transparency and accountability, in addition to biased technologies – particularly in the context of false positives in law enforcement – can create devastating impacts on individuals and families.’

Mayor Ted Wheeler said during the hearing, as OneZero reports:

Portlanders should never be in fear of having their right of privacy be exploited by either their government or by a private institution. All Portlanders and frankly all people are entitled to a city government that will not use technology with a demonstrated racial and gender bias which endangers personal privacy.


Echoing the events in other US cities, Portland has seen multiple Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death and more. With excessive force and wrongful arrests at the forefront of the conversation, those against facial recognition argue it could exacerbate perennial racial biases.

No city agency in Portland currently uses facial recognition or biometric technologies, likewise for the police. However, the ordinance has also ordered each bureau director to carry out an immediate review to ensure this is the case.

The camera in a biometric facial recognition screening device at a British Airways international gateThe camera in a biometric facial recognition screening device at a British Airways international gatePA Images

City Council Commissioner Chloe Eudaly added: 


How many times have we heard of wrongful arrests, assaults, convictions and deaths of Black boys and men because they resemble a suspect? These are the very people who are most likely to be misidentified by this technology. Technology should not amplify existing bias and perpetuate racism. It can and should be a tool to help solve for these social ills.

A wide array of private businesses are now prohibited from using the technology, such as restaurants, shops, Airbnb, Uber and other publicly accessible facilities or providers. Any firms already using facial recognition must stop by January 1, 2021.

There are a few exceptions, including churches, private clubs and residences, and using the technology to unlock your personal smartphone. People will also be able to sue companies that violate the law, with damages of up to $1,000 for each day of collecting their data unlawfully, Business Insider reports.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: News, Facial Recognition, Oregon, portland, Technology, US


OneZero and 1 other
  1. OneZero

    Portland Passes Groundbreaking Ban on Facial Recognition in Stores, Banks, Restaurants and More

  2. Business Insider

    Portland becomes the first city to ban the use of facial recognition technology by government agencies and private entities in public spaces