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Amazon suspends police use of facial recognition software

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Reply generalized demands for further aggressive police action in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Amazon is suspending law enforcement use of its facial recognition platform for a year, the company said on Wednesday.

The company has been marketing its software platform, called Rekognition, to law enforcement agencies for years, and its short blog post the announcement of the change did not provide an explicit reason for the change in leadership. The post noted that Amazon supports federal regulation of facial recognition technology and that the company hopes the one-year moratorium “may give Congress enough time to implement the appropriate rules.”

The move came two days after IBM announced it was withdrawing completely from facial recognition business, citing ethical concerns about the powerful technology. In a letter to Congress, the chief executive of the company, Arvind Krishna, wrote that “IBM strongly opposes and will not tolerate any use [facial recognition] technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms ”or any other purpose contrary to business fundamentals.

Cities across the country, including Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, have outright banned the use of the technology by public agencies over concerns that the software, which uses machine learning algorithms to automatically detect human faces in digital video and matching them to names, too much of a privacy risk to use responsibly.

A California law in 2019 banned the use of facial recognition software – and any other biometric surveillance capable of identifying people by tattooing, gait, or other distinct characteristics individually – in photos or videos collected by forces of the United States. ‘order.

The text of the law summed up concerns about the use of the technology, calling its potential widespread application a “functional equivalent of requiring every person to show a photo ID card at all times in violation of rights. constitutional rights ”, regardless of his consent. He added that its use risked creating massive and unregulated databases of Californians never suspected of having committed a crime, and “could chill the exercise of free speech in public places”, because the The identity of anyone in a crowd could be immediately discerned.

Amazon has been a major supplier of facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies in recent years, a role that has drawn criticism. In June 2018, the Washington State branch of the American Civil Liberties Union uses the Seattle company to stop providing technology to governments, including local law enforcement.

The Amazon executive who oversees Rekognition told reporters at PBS ‘Frontline’ as of February, the company did not know how many police departments were using the technology. “We have 165 services in our technology infrastructure platform,” said Andrew Jassy, ​​general manager of Amazon Web Services, “and you can use them in any combination you want.”

Fight for the Future, a digital rights group leading a coalition calling for an outright ban on facial recognition technology in all apps, said a one-year hiatus was not enough.

“It’s nothing more than an Amazon PR stunt,” Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement. Greer said the call for federal regulation is in line with a strategy – familiar from the fight about California’s privacy law passed last year – in which powerful tech companies push for broad federal regulation that is ultimately weaker than their company’s regulation at the state or municipal level .

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