Amazon extends ban on police use of facial recognition software ‘until further notice’

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Amazon has extended its moratorium on police use of its facial recognition software “until further notice”, according to Reuters. The ban was due to expire in June.

As far back as 2018, Amazon employees had pushed Amazon to scale back the project, arguing that documented racial bias in facial recognition could exacerbate police brutality against minorities. Amazon defended the project until June 2020, when growing pressure from widespread protests led the company to announce a years-long moratorium on police clients for the service.

Rekognition is offered as an AWS service, and many of Amazon’s cloud computing competitors have similar technology. Microsoft announced it would also not sell its facial recognition services to the police the day after Amazon’s commitment, and IBM said it would stop developing or investigating facial recognition technology the same week. Google does not offer its facial recognition technology to anyone commercially.

Amazon did not immediately respond to the request for comment on why the ban was extended. In a statement issued when the ban on the use of law enforcement was first issued, Amazon said it hoped Congress would use the year provided for by the moratorium to implement rules around the ethical use of facial recognition technology. Part of the statement read:

We have argued for governments to introduce stricter rules to regulate the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days Congress appears poised to take up this challenge. We hope that this one-year moratorium will give Congress sufficient time to implement appropriate rules, and we are ready to help if asked.

So far, there is no federal legislation that has addressed the use of facial recognition by the police, but a number of state and local measures have overturned the use of the technology. San Francisco was the first American city to ban the use of facial recognition by the government in May 2019, and Oakland followed soon after. The cities of Portland in Oregon and Maine also passed legislation on the technology in late 2020. The state of Massachusetts failed to pass a proposed ban in December 2020, however recently passed an amended bill that adds some restrictions to the police’s use of facial recognition.