In Portland, Oregon, George Floyd’s death at the hands of police sparked riots, arson and looting, just as it did all across America.
Portland’s riots, generously called “public demonstrations” by woke media outlets and woke politicians alike, take place nightly and have for the past 120 days.
Some “protesters” say the riots will continue every night until the U.S. Presidential election is over.
In light of the ongoing violence plaguing the city, I find it bizarre that on September 9, 2020, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland City Council passed the strictest ban on facial recognition technology anywhere in the United States.
“We must protect the privacy of Portland’s residents and visitors, first and foremost. These ordinances are necessary until we see more responsible development of technologies that do not discriminate against Black, Indigenous and other people of color,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said.
It was a moment of great wokeness, to be sure, and the vote unanimous.
From the City of Portland press release:
“Portlanders need assurance that the City of Portland is not using untested technologies with demonstrated racial and gender biases, that compromise personal privacy, and that may wrongfully ensnare individuals in the criminal justice system.”
Using two separate ordinances, Mayor Wheeler banned both the public and private use of facial recognition inside the City of Portland.
The Public Ban on Facial Rec
The first ordinance bans the “use and acquisition of face recognition technologies by City bureaus” and is effective immediately.
City of Portland bureaus may now only use Face Recognition Technologies:
- For verification purposes for bureau staff to access their own personal or City issued personal communication devices or computers. For example, bureau staff may use Face Recognition Technologies to unlock their own or assigned mobile phones or tablets;
- In social media applications, which is regulated by the Social Media Policy: HRAR 4.08A; and,
- For the sole purpose of redacting a recording for release or disclosure outside the City to protect the privacy of a subject depicted in the recording.
The Private Ban on Facial Rec
The second ordinance goes into effect on January 1, 2021, and bans “private entities” from using facial recognition technology in “places of public accommodation.”
Places of public accommodation include any facility, both public and private, used by the public, including:
- Bars and nightclubs
- Retail stores
- Service establishments
- Recreation facilities
- Gyms and fitness centres
- Entertainment halls
- Any place where the public may gather
Despite the foregoing, the definition of “places of public accommodation” does not include:
- Commercial facilities operated by private entities
- private clubs
- religious organizations
- private residences or place of accommodation that, in its nature, is distinctly private.
If you’re confused about what constitutes a “private entity” and the foregoing lists sound contradictory, you’re not alone.
This is wokeness at its finest in a city where law and order hang on by the slimmest of threads, every single night.
What About COVID?
Since the pandemic hit, governments and businesses are looking for ways to prevent the spread of the virus.
Think banks, health care facilities, or any place where access is restricted – these companies were denied an exemption from the Portland’s ban on facial recognition, despite the fact “touchless access control solutions are more important than ever as we work to protect essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“We hope that clear language will be added in the future that will allow the use of facial recognition technology for individual opt-in experiences such as automated hotel check-in or ticket verification, uses that have nothing to do with surveillance, involuntary data collection or access,” said Jon Isaacs, vice president of government affairs for Portland Business Alliance.
Don’t bet on it, Mr. Isaacs.
And Then Came the Lawsuits
The right to sue is one of the key components of Portland’s facial recognition ban opposed by business groups.
Under the new law, anyone can sue a business they deem “non-compliant” with the ban and win damages of $1,000 per day for each violation (does that mean 5 cameras equals 5 violations?) or damages sustained as a result of the violation, whichever is greater.
Given the lack of clarity around these fines, don’t be surprised when a lot of Portland businesses relocate outside the city limits.
Why would they stay in a city where they could be bankrupted by this poorly thought out ordinance?
Dr. Markisha Smith, director of the Office of Equity and Human Rights, framed the ban on facial recognition technology as a race issue as well as a privacy issue, and emphasized Portland was taking a “safety first approach” to the matter.
“The historic and present day use of technology to repress and harm BIPOC communities makes it essential that we proceed with a safety first approach and these ordinances to ban use of face recognition technologies by City bureaus and corporations do just that.”
Andrea Durbin, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Director, explained it this way:
“City Council’s actions are designed to protect residents and visitors from bias and will help us achieve a more equitable digital future for Portland.”
I had no idea what “equitable digital future” means.
I was about to write it off as just one more woke term I’ll never understand, but a little digging revealed the following:
The public workforce system – including adult basic education – has the responsibility of supporting digital skill building within their community, especially for people with barriers to employment. This commitment to building equitable opportunity should be front and center in the collaborative planning now underway in states and localities.
So, an “equitable digital future” means educating people so they have digital literacy or digital skills so they can get a meaningful job.
Still not clear how banning facial recognition relates to an “equitable digital future” for everyone though.
It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s government policy.