Amazon is doubling down on its decision to stop selling its Rekognition facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies. The company halted Rekognition sales to the police last June, in response to the police murder of George Floyd and the anti-police brutality protests that followed. However, the original moratorium only covered a one-year period, and Amazon in now indicating that it will extend that law enforcement ban indefinitely.
In that regard, Amazon’s decision softly echoes that of IBM, which suspended its entire facial recognition program in the days before Amazon’s initial 2020 announcement. Microsoft has similarly confirmed that it will not sell facial recognition technology to the police, though in that case the company’s policy predates the 2020 protests.
The latest news speaks to the ongoing concerns about racial bias in law enforcement, and in the development of facial recognition technologies more generally. The technology is not as accurate when applied to people with darker skin, which can result in false arrests and contribute to continued racial profiling.
For its part, Amazon suggested that the one-year term had been set in the hopes that Congress would use that time to pass more meaningful restrictions. Several states and municipalities have since taken steps to regulate the use of facial recognition, though Congress is yet to pass any legislation at the federal level. The ACLU praised Amazon’s decision, though the watchdog is still hoping that lawmakers will follow through with more stringent bans.
“Now, the Biden administration and legislatures across the country must further protect communities from the dangers of this technology by ending its use by law enforcement entirely, regardless which company is selling it,” said ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project Deputy Director Nathan Freed Wessler.
Amazon had faced criticism for working with police prior to the current ban. The company shared Ring smart doorbell footage with more than 400 police departments, and conducted a more formal Rekognition trial with police in Orlando. That trial was scrapped in July of 2019.
May 26, 2021 – by Eric Weiss