San Francisco has become the first US city to prohibit the use of facial recognition from local authorities such as law enforcement and transport police. Legislators voted 8-1 in favour of the ban and if the law passes another vote, which it is expected to do, it will be put into effect in June this year.

Supporters of the new law stated that this type of technology infringes on people’s right to privacy. However, opponents argued that, in a city with such high-profile events, law enforcement needed technology such as this to help protect citizens and attain evidence. 

Facial recognition will still be utilised at the city’s airports and seaports as they are managed by federal agencies, not local authorities.

Will this affect live events?


Facial recognition is highly-regarded in the events industry. Events use the technology to speed up registration processes, enhance security and monitor attendee-experience.

Simon Clayton, chief ideas officer at RefTech, an online and on-site event registration company, commented: “The ban only [affects] City Departments… but that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues around facial recognition in general for event organisers.”

“People are increasingly privacy-conscious and holding special category data (facial recognition is classed as this) and therefore having to obtain explicit consent for that special category data as stated in Article 9 of GDPR, is also a big potential problem for the vendors and organisers.”

Mr Clayton advised event organisers to research the law before hosting an event, claiming that the ban may not help public perception of facial recognition.

Panos Moutafis, CEO and co-founder of Zenus Biometrics, a facial recognition solutions company, also advised researching the law: “The best practice would be consulting an attorney who specialises in privacy regulations and work with vendors who have a deep specialisation in the field, [for example], face recognition and events.”

However, Mr Moutafis also commented that, after reviewing the ordinance, he is of the opinion events in the private sector needn’t worry about losing facial recognition: “This restriction applies to surveillance solutions procured by the city of San Francisco… our understanding is it does not affect events at all.”

Molly joined the editorial team in March 2019. She has several years’ experience working in broadcast and journalism, as well as marketing and PR. Past experience includes working for the BBC and independent publishing houses. If you have a story you think Molly might be interested in, please email: