Amazon responds to call to stop marketing facial recognition to police

Amazon has responded to an open letter from a coalition of privacy and digital rights groups calling on the tech giant to stop marketing its facial recognition technology to police departments with a blog post pointing out its Acceptable Use Policy and outlining the company’s position on its ethical obligations.

AWS General Manager of Artificial Intelligence Dr. Matt Wood points out in the post that no abuse of Amazon Rekognition by law enforcement has been reported, while the benefits of the technology for society and organizations range from preventing human trafficking to finding images more easily. It also mentions that AWS is not the only provider of such services, and the company remains “excited” about its potential for good, including in law enforcement applications.

The company’s Acceptable Use Policy is quoted as prohibiting “[a]ny activities that are illegal, that violate the rights of others, or that may be harmful to others,” and customers in violation of the policy are prevented from using its services, according to the post.

“There have always been and will always be risks with new technology capabilities,” Wood writes. “Each organization choosing to employ technology must act responsibly or risk legal penalties and public condemnation. AWS takes its responsibilities seriously. But we believe it is the wrong approach to impose a ban on promising new technologies because they might be used by bad actors for nefarious purposes in the future.”

The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) recently posted its own response to the open letter, calling for constructive conversation about how to tailor regulation to the new technology, rather than alarmist rhetoric.

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