The line between security and privacy has always been a bit blurry and it continues to get blurrier every day as technology advances. One of the latest developments in surveillance technology has been facial recognition software, which is allegedly capable of identifying you with just a quick scan of your face. While this could have far-reaching effects in the crime-solving world, it also eliminates much of our personal privacy in the process.
Brian Hofer is a paralegal in California who has been fighting to ban facial recognition software for the past five years. As soon as he became aware of the technology in 2014, he joined activist groups to try to get the technology banned from his hometown of Oakland. Once that was accomplished, he started working with other local government bodies across California to ban the technology from their streets. Since then, Hofer has drafted 26 different privacy laws for cities and counties all over the state of California, and all 26 have been approved.
While facial recognition technology may have been the catalyst for Hofer to start fighting for each citizen’s right to privacy, it has extended beyond that to include demands that companies and governing bodies be transparent about the kind of technology they’re using for their surveillance efforts. He has also convinced some cities, including Richmond and Berkeley, to cancel their contracts with tech companies like Vigilant Solutions and Amazon – both Richmond and Berkeley have sanctuary policies and both Vigilant Solutions and Amazon share information with ICE, so Hofer successfully argued that maintaining both the sanctuary policies and contracts with those companies constituted a conflict.
Even if the technology is made with the best of intentions, it can still get things wrong. Hofer experienced this firsthand when he was pulled over in Contra Costa County by police officers who were using an automated license plate reader tool, which just happened to be made by Vigilant Solutions. Hofer was pulled over and accused of stealing the rental car he was driving. The police later realized the car had been stolen months ago and its license plate had not been removed from a registry of stolen vehicles after it was recovered. Hofer was released and is currently suing the sheriff’s department of Contra Costa County for allegedly violating his civil rights.
Hofer’s most recent success involved a San Francisco ordinance against city agencies using facial recognition technology. The ordinance passed earlier this month with only one vote against it, but Hofer barely had time to celebrate before he was off to Oakland, where they were scheduled to debate another one of his sanctuary ordinances, which would forbid the city from doing business with any tech company that does business or shares information with ICE.
Because so many of his initiatives have to do with banning technology, Hofer has been accused of being anti-technology, but he insists that’s not the case. Instead, he’s focused on protecting civil rights to privacy before the technology becomes so entrenched that there’s no removing it.
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