Elinor Aspegren, Mid American Herald
Published 8:26 p.m. ET June 10, 2020
The ACLU and other groups urged Amazon to halt selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement departments.
Amazon announced Wednesday that it is pausing police use of its facial recognition software for one year following nationwide pressure on tech companies to address potential bias.
While Amazon did not specify a reason for its decision, racial injustice has been at the forefront of ongoing protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed black man’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
“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,” Amazon said in a statement posted to the company’s blog website.
Researchers have long criticized the technology for producing inaccurate results for people with darker skin, while other studies have shown technological bias against minorities and young people.
Bias in technology: Federal study finds race, gender bias in facial recognition technology
Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said in a statement that the organization was “glad the company is finally recognizing the dangers face recognition poses to Black and Brown communities and civil rights more broadly,” but that it was not enough to combat the threat to “our civil rights and civil liberties.”
“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,” Ozer said.
On Monday, IBM said that it will no longer offer facial recognition software, with CEO Arvind Krishna calling on Congress to enact reforms to advance racial justice and combat systemic racism.
Facial recognition is the latest digital battleground in the battle for personal privacy. Several cities and states have crafted laws to ban or limit facial recognition technology.
Amazon’s software Rekognition has been used by law enforcement agencies and was reportedly pitched to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to much controversy. Amazon Web Services has previously said the technology is used by organizations that work with law enforcement to advocate for crime victims, and said in the statement that it will continue to allow this use.
On Monday, Democratic lawmakers unveiled a sweeping police reform bill, with calls for mandatory body cameras, an end to police chokeholds, and the creation of a national registry to track officers with a record of misconduct.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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