Amazon Puts Moratorium on Police Use of Rekognition

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Amazon banned police from using its controversial facial-recognition technology Rekognition for a year amid nationwide protests over police brutality and racial profiling. Amazon made the announcement on its corporate blog, not mentioning the protests over George Floyd’s death but implying that recent events drove its decision, reports the Washington Post. “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. “We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules.”

Privacy advocates have criticized Amazon for selling Rekognition to law enforcement, concerned it could lead to the wrongful arrest of innocent people who bear only a resemblance to a video image. Studies have shown that facial-recognition systems misidentify people of color more often than white people. Rekognition is cheap and easy to use. It can take grainy photos from a security camera and run them against thousands of photos, like a police department’s database of mug shots, to find a potential match. Amazon is not pulling the product from the market. It will continue allowing organizations that help rescue human trafficking victims and reunite missing children with their families to use Rekognition. The American Civil Liberties Union said the moratorium didn’t go far enough. “This surveillance technology’s threat to our civil rights and civil liberties will not disappear in a year,” said the ACLU’s Nicole Ozer. On Tuesday, IBM said it will get out of the facial-recognition business altogether over concerns about how the technology can be used for mass surveillance and racial profiling.

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