Muni Wants Facial Recognition Technology for its “Traffic Cameras”

By : sfweekly – excerpt

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has been busy adding to its stock of surveillance equipment.

The agency, which oversees Muni and the myriad street closures currently in effect to make way for the Super Bowl, has set up new “traffic cameras” in the areas along Market Street that will be closed to traffic for all the big deal surrounding the big game.

That set off alarms among privacy advocates — why do you need a traffic camera in an area closed to traffic? — who also pointed out that the SFTMA was, for some reason, also seeking “traffic” cameras with “face detection” technology.

Bids are due today for prospective entrepreneurs to supply Muni with an additional 150 high-tech Samsung security cameras. In addition to the ability to pan, tilt, and zoom, the $1,700 cameras also have the face recognition ability, as the Chronicle noted today.

So why do you need a traffic camera with face recognition technology — if it’s only for traffic, never to be shared with police, and does not have the ability to record, as Muni officials continue to insist?

That’s actually a very good question that’s been answered only with varying versions of “trust us.” Muni spokesman Paul Rose, in comments to the Chronicle today, noted that fancy software is also required to use the face recognition technology in the cameras — and that’s not something Muni has or plans to obtain, he said.

The cameras are supposedly going to be viewed by a traffic supervisor stationed at a Muni building on Market Street who will view the feeds in real-time only, and direct traffic or resources to a particular area after, say, an accident, Rose says.

There are already other cameras positioned around town doing that job right now, he notes…

Trust us? This is the outfit with the $1 billion budget that is in the red. “Trust us” doesn’t work. No way do we want to be surveilled by the SFMTA . Take that one off the table.


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