Portland Passes Toughest Facial-Recognition Ban in US

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

September 17, 2020

Portland, Oregon, has adopted a first-of-its-kind law banning private entities from using facial-recognition technology within city limits in all public accommodations. The ordinance notes that facial-recognition technology has been documented to perpetuate racial and gender bias.

Effective January 1, 2021, Portland's ordinance will prohibit businesses from the use of software that scans faces to identify them in all public accommodations, including stores, restaurants and hotels. Portland also will prohibit city agencies from using facial-recognition technology. Other cities, including Boston, Oakland and San Francisco, have banned city use of facial recognition technology. But Portland's move to prevent not only local government but businesses from using it is the nation's most sweeping ban thus far.

In a statement, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler cited privacy concerns and the potential for misuse with the technology against Blacks, Indigenous individuals and other people of color as reasons for the ban. Civil liberties groups and artificial intelligence researchers have voiced concerns about accuracy and bias issues with facial-recognition systems.

The prohibition on the use of facial recognition technologies does not apply in certain situations, such as:

  • To the extent needed for a private entity to comply with federal, state or local laws;
  • For user-verification purposes by an individual to access their own personal or employer-issued communication and electronic devices (e.g. smartphones); or
  • In automatic face-detection services in social media applications.