Jun 10, 2020 - Technology

Amazon to halt police use of its facial recognition technology for one year

Amazon logo on a building
Amazon logistics center on April 21 in Bretigny-sur-Orge, France. Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Amazon announced on Wednesday it would stop supplying U.S. police officers with its facial recognition technology for one year amid a nationwide push for police reform.

What they're saying: "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. We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested."

The big picture: A federal study found that facial recognition systems offered by Amazon, Microsoft and IBM largely failed to identify people of color, predominately Asians and African Americans. Amazon did not submit its algorithm to the study, per the Washington Post.

  • A 2018 MIT Media Lab study found that Amazon's facial recognition system was the worst at identifying darker-skinned women, which the company has disputed.
  • Amazon has asked federal policymakers to judge how government agencies and law enforcement use the tech.

Driving the news: IBM announced to Congress on Tuesday that it is exiting the general-purpose facial recognition business entirely — a stronger stance than Amazon. IBM also said it opposes the use of such technology for mass surveillance and racial profiling.

What they're saying: "It took two years for Amazon to get to this point, but we’re glad the company is finally recognizing the dangers face recognition poses to Black and Brown communities and civil rights more broadly," Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director with the ACLU in California said in a statement on Wednesday.

  • “This surveillance technology’s threat to our civil rights and civil liberties will not disappear in a year. Amazon must fully commit to a blanket moratorium on law enforcement use of face recognition until the dangers can be fully addressed, and it must press Congress and legislatures across the country to do the same. They should also commit to stop selling surveillance systems like Ring that fuel the over-policing of communities of color," Ozer said.
  • Digital rights group Fight for the Future, which has called on Congress to ban the government's use of facial recognition, called Amazon's moratorium "nothing more than a public relations stunt" in a statement on Wednesday.

Go deeper: How AI police surveillance treats people of color

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