San Francisco is changing its facial recognition ban after it accidentally made the iPhones it gave to city employees illegal

San Francisco is changing its facial recognition ban after it accidentally made the iPhones it gave to city employees illegal
iPhone X Face ID
  • San Francisco voted to amend its facial recognition ban to allow the use of iPhones with Apple's signature FaceID facial recognition system within the city, as well as other products with facial recognition features.
  • The city banned city agencies from using gadgets equipped facial recognition technology back in May, but it became apparent that government-issued iPhones came equipped with Apple's Face ID, illegal under the new law.
  • Even if Apple's facial recognition feature was turned off, the iPhone itself was still banned under the law, a city aide to the local Board of Supervisors told Wired.
  • Tuesday's amendments now allow government agencies to have and distribute tech products that have facial recognition features, as long as the device itself is deemed necessary to their jobs and no viable alternatives can be found.
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San Francisco became the first city to ban the use of facial recognition technology by the police and other city agencies back in May, blocking a tool that has been broadly criticized for misidentifying people of color.


But then some of the iPhones that San Francisco provided its employees turned out to be illegal under the new law, highlighting the complexities of placing a blanket ban on an increasingly-common type of technology, Wired reports.

San Francisco's local Board of Supervisors voted to amend the law on Tuesday, such that the city could not be sued for violating the ban when its employees used products like recent models of the iPhone - which comes with FaceID, an optional feature to unlock your phone using facial recognition.

Apple's FaceID cannot be deleted or otherwise removed from compatible devices, so even turning the feature off could have still left the government liable, a city aide to a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors told Wired.

But the ban on facial recognition still broadly applies. Government agencies can obtain and distribute gadgets equipped with facial recognition technology, as long as the gadget in question is deemed necessary, its facial recognition features cannot be deleted, and without viable alternative to the product exists, according to the amendment.


A handful of other cities have followed San Francisco's lead in blocking facial recognition, including the city's neighbor of Oakland, as well as Brookline and Somerville in Massachusetts.

But some cities have made exceptions, to tackle the nuances of banning a now-prevalent technology. Brookline's ban, which passed last week, includes specific exemptions on personal devices used by city officials. That's to address both Apple's FaceID and photo-tagging features on Facebook.

The amendment to San Francisco's facial recognition ban is set to be reviewed by city mayor London Breed before it can go into effect, according to the official website of the Board of Supervisors.

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