Amazon won’t let police use its facial recognition tech for a year

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Earlier this week IBM announced that it would no longer sell facial recognition software and now Amazon has followed IBM’s example, sort of.

Amazon has said that it is implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of Amazon’s facial recognition technology Rekognition.

“We will continue to allow organizations like Thorn, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Marinus Analytics to use Amazon Rekognition to help rescue human trafficking victims and reunite missing children with their families,” Amazon said in a statement on Wednesday.

“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. We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested,” the firm added.

While this statement hits the right notes, that’s all it does to speak frankly.

Compared to IBM’s statement which condemns the use of facial recognition tech for racial profiling, violation of human rights and mass surveillance, Amazon’s statement feels more as if its simply bowing to public pressure.

More than that, Rekognition has been shown to be severely flawed.

In 2018 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) built a search tool using 25 000 arrest photos. The organisation then searched members of the US House and Senate against that database using Rekognition.

“Nearly 40 percent of Rekognition’s false matches in our test were of people of color, even though they make up only 20 percent of Congress,” the ACLU wrote in its findings.

“People of color are already disproportionately harmed by police practices, and it’s easy to see how Rekognition could exacerbate that,” the organisation added.

But a report from The Verge suggests that police might not even be using Amazon’s tech. The publication reports that only two police departments in the US use Rekognition.

The more popular choice among law enforcement is Clearview AI and its chief executive officer, Hoan Ton-That told The Verge, “While Amazon, Google, and IBM have decided to exit the marketplace, Clearview AI believes in the mission of responsibly used facial recognition to protect children, victims of financial fraud and other crimes that afflict our communities.”

Perhaps then what we need is law enforcement to say it won’t use facial recognition software.

While folks like Ton-That say that facial recognition isn’t meant to be used as a surveillance tool, a knee is also not meant to be used as a murder weapon.

We cannot deny that facial recognition can be a powerful tool in the right hands, until we figure out who the right hands are though, perhaps everybody should follow IBM’s example.

[Image – CC BY 2.0 EFF Photos]

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.