Store Says Portland’s Facial Recognition Ban Could Drive It to Shut Doors Overnight

Listen to this story in the latest episode of Banned in PDX, the podcast tracking Portland’s facial recognition ban.

Portland’s city council unanimously passed its groundbreaking facial recognition ban. Already one convenience store chain with multiple locations in Portland, Jacksons Food Stores, says it could shut its doors overnight as a result of the ban.

A facial recognition system is used overnights to guard entry to Jacksons Food Stores in Portland.

The ban, passed September 9, makes Portland the only city anywhere to outlaw facial recognition technology in privately-owned places accessible to the public such as coffee shops, stores, banks, hotels and more. The city also outlawed use of the controversial surveillance technology by city bureaus including the police bureau.

Jacksons Food Stores has multiple locations in Portland, three of which employ facial recognition every night. Now, by law the company will have to disable the systems by January 1, 2021, when Portland’s ban on private facial recognition use goes into effect.

“We’re disappointed by the decision, as the stores where the technology’s being used are safer than they were previously, and both our employees and customers have responded very favorably to its use,” Jacksons Food Stores Spokesperson Russ Stoddard told XRAY.

It’s also likely that we’ll have to close [the stores] during nighttime hours for the safety of our employees and for our customers.

Russ Stoddard, Jacksons Food Stores spokesperson

“While we’ll likely reevaluate how we’ll continue to operate safely in the three stores in Portland that are affected by this ban, it’s also likely that we’ll have to close them during nighttime hours for the safety of our employees and for our customers,” he continued. The stores where the technology is used are all on Portland’s east side.

Stoddard declined to provide any additional information regarding the company’s plans for dismantling its facial recognition system. Jacksons Food Stores is based in Idaho.

Smart City PDX, the city’s data and tech advisory group, oversaw drafting of the ban and will oversee its implementation. Smart City PDX Manager Kevin Martin said the city would like to have a discussion with the retailer about closing its stores overnight.

“We want to work with businesses and talk with businesses about what those trade-offs are on their side, but I think we all believe strongly that the negatives of those trade-offs can’t continue to fall on black and brown people specifically. And I think this is the city a little bit drawing a line in the sand saying that we’re going to be more proactive about that going forward.”

We all believe strongly that the negatives of those trade-offs can’t continue to fall on black and brown people specifically.

Kevin Martin, Smart City PDX manager

Several research studies, including one from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal government agency, have shown proof of inaccuracies in facial recognition algorithms that disproportionately affect Asian, African American, and Indigenous people compared to white people.

Portland’s ordinance prohibiting facial recognition in privately-owned places established a digital justice designation in the city code. Grounded in state and federal anti-discrimination law, the ban is part of the city’s strategic effort to develop equitable policies for data and tech use.

The new digital justice designation in the city code states, “Face Recognition Technologies have been shown to falsely identify women and People of Color on a routine basis.” It continues, “Portland’s commitment to equity means that we prioritize the safety and well-being of communities of color and other marginalized and vulnerable community members.”

The facial recognition technology deployed at Jacksons Food Stores in Portland and Tacoma, Washington was developed by Blue Line Technology, a company founded by former St. Louis police officers.

The city’s ban on private facial recognition use goes into effect on January 1, 2021. The ban on city bureau use went into effect September 9.

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For more about how the facial recognition system at Jacksons stores works, and more on what to expect now that the city has passed its groundbreaking facial recognition ban, check out the Banned in PDX podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and XRAYPod.