July 23, 2024

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Amazon announces one year pause on facial recognition for police


Rekognition being used by the Washington County sheriff’s department in Oregon.


Amazon’s facial recognition won’t be matching with police for the next year, the company announced on Wednesday. The tech giant announced a one year moratorium on its Rekognition tool for law enforcement, after weeks of protest against police brutality

The company will allow commercial uses of facial recognition, and uses by organizations like the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children to help find victims of human trafficking, Amazon said. 

“We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge,” the company said in a press statement. “We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.” 

The temporary ban comes days after IBM announced it was pulling out of the facial recognition market

Amazon’s promotion of Rekognition to law enforcement has been controversial for multiple reasons: from its flawed accuracy rates to how it’s been used for petty crimes like shoplifting. The company’s own employees have also protested against Amazon offering facial recognition to law enforcement

The scrutiny came into even greater focus after multiple protests against police brutality called for defunding law enforcement, including surveillance tools like facial recognition. 

Despite Amazon’s public gestures against racism like donating $10 million to support social justice and black communities, the moves rang hollow as the tech giant continued to provide surveillance tools to thousands of police departments. 

The company has also defended its support of facial recognition, pushing back against researchers who point out that Rekognition has racial and gender bias. Joy Buolamwini, a researcher and founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, first called out Amazon over the accuracy flaws in a study published with Deborah Raji, a student at the University of Toronto. 

The announcement on Wednesday made no mention of the researchers who pointed out these flaws to Amazon, despite the fact that the company directly responded to the research in a blog post from January 2019

“The conversation has shifted and hopefully we’ll move toward some level of regulation for this technology to be used,” Raji said. 

But the moratorium on its own isn’t enough, she noted. Amazon has spent millions on lobbying tech policy, including facial recognition. In 2019, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said the company is working on its own regulations for facial recognition, prompting concerns from privacy advocates.

“This is a very small step forward. One year is not enough to really push a lot of policy,” Raji said. “I would hope that they’re not going to spend the year investing in lobbyists. hope that one year moratorium also applies to lobbying.”

Amazon declined to comment beyond its blog post. 

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