Amazon Prohibits Police From Using Its Facial Recognition Software

Amazon announced on Thursday that it will ban the use of its facial recognition software next year.

Amazon police prohibits facial recognition
Amazon prohibits police from using its facial recognition software. PHOTO/SHUTTERSTOCK

Technology giant Amazon announced on Thursday that it will ban the use of its facial recognition software next year. The announcement comes amid calls for increased regulations in police surveillance following months of ambiguity surrounding the legitimate use of facial recognition technology.

Defective technology

Amazon’s facial recognition software, known as Rekognition, has long been criticized as a flawed, implicit racial bias in many artificial intelligence programs. Such projects typically learn from data sets like creators of white and Asian men who dominate the software development industry. 

As a result, some AI-controlled cameras struggle to identify the facial features of black people, which creates an opportunity to misidentify people of color.

But in the context of law enforcement, misidentification can spell danger. Some police departments rely on facial recognition to compare images of criminal suspects with mugshots in their database. A false match may detain an innocent person.

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Recognizing the problem

Amazon’s complex authentication technology has come under intense public scrutiny in recent weeks, amid nationwide protests and calls for action for racial justice and police reform. 

Following allegations that police departments used facial recognition to identify people attending mass demonstrations, Amazon has decided to pull off its technology, at least for now, for fear of contributing to police surveillance culture.

“We argued that governments should put in place stronger regulations to manage the ethical use of facial recognition technology,” Amazon said in a statement. “In recent days, Congress appears to be ready to accept the challenge. … We hope that this one-year moratorium may give Congress ample time to implement appropriate regulations, and we are ready to help if requested.”

Follow the lead

This is a huge breakthrough for those who demand even more drastic limits on the use of this powerful, but incredible technology. Since the announcement by Amazon, the US Civil Liberties Union has praised Microsoft for its year-long ban on police use of facial recognition technology.

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In the meantime, IBM has gone a step further by addressing issues of racial injustice in the police force. Arvind Krishna, chief executive of the technology firm, said that “the fight against racism is as urgent as ever” and that the company is using a three-pronged approach to tackle a complex social problem. 

IBM wants to work with Congress to implement police reform, regulations on technology applications, and greater investment in education.

Still, none of this technology is completely banned. Amazon has said that Rekognition will still be used in human trafficking investigations, as it often requires AI help to find such victims. 

The main difference is that in this case AI will be used to identify victims, not suspects.

Both Congress and the ACLU are now exploring the next steps in the fair use of facial recognition. Democrats in Congress have introduced a bill banning the use of police in real-time, while the ACLU wants additional regulations banning the use of facial recognition in police body-cam scenes.

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