Privacy protection policies

Policies, procedures, and regulations that protect personal and sensitive information from Portlanders and visitors, including privacy and information protection, and the use of face recognition and surveillance technologies.
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Privacy policies intend to implement City of Portland core values, modern and responsible best practices for managing personal and sensitive information and help City agencies and the local community to implement basic digital rights and responsible information system.

Privacy and information protection principles

The City of Portland approved a set of privacy and information protection principles in 2019 after a yearlong effort that included several community events and internal agency awareness.

The development of these policies included a comprehensive public engagement process and work with Portland City Commissioners and agencies. Community members and experts provided public testimony and participated in work sessions to provide literacy on privacy issues to the City Council.

An internal privacy work group with City staff involved in different aspects of information protection was established after the privacy and information protection principles were approved by the City Council.

Face recognition policies

In 2020, the City Council approved banning face recognition technologies for City Bureaus and in places of public accommodations when owned by private entities. These policies were developed in collaboration with the Office of Equity and Human Rights and several local organizations and experts.


What is face recognition?

Face recognition is a type of surveillance technology that detects a human face for a specific purpose. It may extract biometric data (measurements related to human facial characteristics such as hair and eye color, cheekbone characteristics) from an individual to compare their facial features with an image contained in a repository.

Why is the City of Portland implementing this kind of policy?

The City is committed to ensuring that public places are free from intrusive surveillance and discrimination. The City believes that digital services should work for all in the same manner regardless of race, age, gender identity and disability status. The City has also adopted a set of principles that include protecting sensitive and personal information from uses that generate harm. 

Why has the City banned this technology?

Certain algorithms and service providers have shown unacceptable rates of failure on people with dark skin color, women, and elderly people. There is currently a lack of services that certify, audit, and provide oversight of those technologies. Recent studies show that racial and gender bias continues to a significant issue with facial recognition technologies, especially in environments where camera resolution, lighting and other variables cannot be controlled. This policy has protected Portlanders from the use of biased technology by the City of Portland, and by private entities in public spaces.
Some private companies have also used images from social media and other sources to extract images from people without their consent or awareness, including minors. This policy has protected Portlanders from using their information from those unaccountable sources.

Current exemptions to the policy

The ban on the use of FRT by the City exempts:

  1. For verification purposes for bureau staff to access their own personal or City issued personal communication and electronic devices. For example, bureau staff may use Face Recognition Technologies to unlock their own or assigned mobile phones or tablets.
  2. In automatic face detection services in social media applications. Bureau staff activity in social media is regulated by the policy HRAR 4.08A, and 
  3. In detecting faces for the sole purpose of redacting a recording for release or disclosure outside the City to protect the privacy of a subject depicted in the recording.

The ban on the use of FRT by private entities in places of public accommodations exempts:

  1. To the extent necessary for a Private Entity to comply with federal, state, or local Laws. 
  2. For user verification purposes by an individual to access the individual’s own personal or employer issued communication and electronic devices, and 
  3. In automatic face detection services in social media applications.

Surveillance technologies resolution

On February 1, 2023, Portland City Council approved the surveillance technologies resolution. This resolution is a City binding policy that includes five directives:

  1. Develop the citywide surveillance technologies inventory.
  2. Explore accountability, oversight, and effective public involvement in surveillance technologies used by the City.
  3. Implement privacy impact assessments before procuring new surveillance technologies.
  4. Design a citywide privacy program.
  5. Start the analysis of automated decision systems.