Amazon Announces One-Year Ban on Police Using Its Facial Recognition Software

June 11, 2020

Amazon announced that it is banning police from using its facial recognition software for a year as pressure on companies mounts following the murder of George Floyd in police custody.

Floyd's death sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism.

On Wednesday, the tech giant announced that it hoped this would give Congress enough time to pass legislation regulating the technology.

“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,” Amazon said in a statement.

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

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform held several hearings on the use of facial recognition technology, but it hasn’t introduced a regulatory bill, according to CNBC.

Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Ca. told the publication he's hopeful that the bill would be passed this year but added that Amazon has stalled on handing over data that it needed to make a decision.

“Rekognition,” the software introduced in 2016 to help police and immigration officials target criminals and immigrants, has been controversial for the tech giant with many claiming it misidentifies African American and Asian people more frequently than white counterparts, according to The New York Post.

Protestors have urged tech companies to act more responsibly when it comes to facial recognition software, which led IBM to announce that they are exiting the facial recognition business.

Amazon declined to reveal how many police departments rely on the technology, which was described in a blog post as a “service that makes it easy to add image analysis to your applications” and to “detect objects, scenes, and faces in images.” Amazon also said that the technology’s capabilities included detecting a persons fear, happiness, and sadness through facial expressions.

The American Civil Liberties Union believes Amazon’s moratorium is a step in the right direction.

“It took two years for Amazon to get to this point, but we’re glad the company is finally recognizing the dangers face recognition poses to Black and Brown communities and civil rights more broadly,” said Nicole Ozer, the ACLU’s technology and civil liberties director, per CNBC.

“This surveillance technology’s threat to our civil rights and civil liberties will not disappear in a year,” she added.

ABC reports other advocacy groups are calling the move "a publicity stunt."

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