Amazon Blocks Police From Using Facial-Recognition Software for One Year

Amid national pressure following the police killing of George Floyd, Amazon said it will ban officers from using its facial-recognition software for one year.

The e-tail giant said that it will continue to allow organizations such as Thorn, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Marinus Analytics to use its Amazon Rekognition software to reunite missing children with their families and help victims of human trafficking.

“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 wrote on its corporate blog. “We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.”

Amazon launched Rekognition, a computer-based software that enables users to match images based on visual similarities, in 2016. The service can recognize items as well as human faces. Law enforcement have been using the software to scan databases for crime suspects, but there have been reported problems with the service.

The American Civil Liberties Union claims the software more frequently misidentifies people of color — which it says has “alarming” implications for civil rights. For two years, the ACLU has been leading a coalition effort with the aim of getting the e-commerce behemoth to stop selling the software to law enforcement.

This surveillance technology’s threat to our civil rights and civil liberties will not disappear in a year. Amazon must fully commit to a blanket moratorium on law enforcement use of face recognition until the dangers can be fully addressed, and it must press Congress and legislatures across the country to do the same,” said Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director of the ACLU of Northern California.

The May 25 death of Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man who was killed by a white police officer, has sparked national unrest and calls for police reform or disbandment. In solidarity with those fighting systemic racism, brands and retailers across the footwear and fashion industries have issued statements — including both those that have frequently spoken up on social issues as well as those that have typically remained silent, with some also announcing donations and commitments to improving D&I internally.

In addition to posting a message in support of Black Lives Matter on its website, Amazon announced last week a donation of $10 million to organizations committed to racial justice. The e-tailer, which selected nonprofits to support with the assistance of its Black Employee Network, is contributing to the NAACP, the ACLU Foundation, the Equal Justice Initiative, Black Lives Matter and the National Urban League, among others. Further, Amazon’s Black Employee Network will receive a grant to fund local education and racial equity initiatives in communities where employees live and work.


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