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Amazon declares ‘moratorium’ on police use of its ‘racist’ facial recognition tech

Amazon declares ‘moratorium’ on police use of its ‘racist’ facial recognition tech
US law enforcement will be barred from using Amazon’s facial recognition software for one year, the company has announced, calling for stronger government regulation of the technology amid a broader push to reform policing.

Amazon said it had placed a “one-year moratorium” on police use of its Rekognition software in a blog post on Wednesday, noting that organizations that “help rescue human trafficking victims and reunite missing children with their families” – which at times work with police – will be exempt from the ban.

“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,” the company said, adding that it hopes the one-year ban will buy time for lawmakers to “implement appropriate rules.”

Though the company did not elaborate on what rules it would like to see and provided no explanation for the ban, it mirrors a similar move earlier this week by IBM, which said it would cease developing facial recognition software altogether and stop providing it to police, decrying its use for “mass surveillance, racial profiling, [and] violations of basic human rights.” Both decisions come on the heels of nationwide protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in late May, which has also prompted calls for far-reaching police reform, and even outright abolition.

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The ACLU has singled out Amazon’s Rekognition software as “primed for abuse in the hands of governments,” conducting an experiment in 2018 which found that the tech erroneously matched the faces of 28 members of Congress to images of people arrested for crimes. The program misidentified non-white reps disproportionately, driving concerns the software will unfairly target minorities.

In February, Amazon said it wasn’t aware of how many police departments were using Rekognition, but according to company marketing material obtained by the ACLU in 2018, the firm views deployment by law enforcement as a “common use case” for the technology. The company has also marketed the program to local governments, such as the city of Orlando, Florida.

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Amazon has come under fire for assisting police with other panopticon-like tech, such as its Ring doorbell cameras. As of last summer, the company had allowed some 400 departments to access the devices, creating a vast surveillance web in neighborhoods around the US. By installing the cameras, users agree to supply footage to “law enforcement authorities, government officials, and/or third parties” in the event of a “reasonable government request,” however police also have the ability to circumvent uncooperative residents and obtain the footage directly from Amazon itself.

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