Amazon pauses sale of facial biometrics to police while advocates push Microsoft and Ring to follow

amazon biometric facial recognition

Amazon has put a one-year moratorium on direct sales of its biometric facial recognition service to law enforcement to allow for time for U.S. Congress to put regulations in place governing the technology.

Rekognition will still be supplied to organizations like Thorn, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Marinus Analytics. Thorn is a non-profit providing technology to protect children from sexual abuse, and Marinus Analytics is a company providing law enforcement with tools to identify and shut down human trafficking.

The decision was announced in a two-paragraph policy blog, in which Amazon says it has advocated for stronger regulation of facial recognition by governments, a move the company made last October, and that “in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge.” Amazon also offers to help with drawing up the regulation.

In 2018, the company responded to a letter co-signed by a coalition of advocacy groups that requested it stop marketing its facial recognition to police departments with a denial, explaining that no abuse of the technology by police had been reported, emphasizing its Acceptable Use Policy, and arguing that the benefits outweigh its risks.

Concerns have been raised over the past week about whether facial recognition technology has been used to identity peaceful protesters. The wave of Black Lives Matters protests in the U.S. and other countries were spurred by the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.

A recent report also suggested that the accuracy of Amazon’s facial recognition remains lower for people with darker skin.

“Face recognition technology gives governments the unprecedented power to spy on us wherever we go. It fuels police abuse. This surveillance technology must be stopped,” argues ACLU of Northern California Technology and Civil Liberties Director Nicole Ozer.

“We urge Microsoft and other companies to join IBM, Google, and Amazon in moving towards the right side of history.”

IBM announced the sunset of its facial recognition offering for all customers earlier this week, and questioned the appropriateness of its use by law enforcement in a letter to Congress.

The ACLU also published a lengthy commentary on Microsoft’s position, calling for the company to suspend its facial recognition offering. The company’s support for the recently-paused California legislation that would have established legal grounds and limitations for its use is cited as evidence that “The world Microsoft seems to want is one where police have an invisible but inescapable surveillance presence in our communities,” as ACLU Technology and Civil Liberties Attorney Matt Cagle puts it.

The company’s recent decision to replace journalists with an AI system immediately resulted in an image with one mixed-race singer being used with an article about another mixed-race singer, and a letter from 250 employees has called on the company to cancel police facial recognition contracts, OneZero reports.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) meanwhile has called on Amazon subsidiary Ring to end its law enforcement partnerships. Ring recently denied reports that it is considering adding facial recognition to its portfolio.

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