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Amazon Is Suspending Police Use Of Its Facial Recognition Tech For One Year

The company is joining IBM, but it doesn't mean Amazon is totally out of the facial recognition business.

Posted on June 10, 2020, at 6:18 p.m. ET

Jason Cairnduff / Reuters

A woman wears a mask during a Black Lives Matter protest in Centenary Square in Birmingham, England.

Amazon said in a blog post on Wednesday that it would be implementing a one-year suspension on law enforcement use of Rekognition, the company’s facial recognition technology.

The move comes during a national moment of protests against police brutality, which have swept the country after police killed two unarmed Black people, George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.

When reached for comment, an Amazon spokesperson said, "We’re not answering any further questions at this time."

Although activists have for years demanded that tech companies stop selling facial recognition to police, only this week have companies started to act: Two days ago, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna announced that his company would no longer sell or provide facial recognition to law enforcement and would halt research on the technology.

Amazon’s Rekognition gained notoriety in 2018 after it falsely matched 28 members of Congress with mugshots, disproportionately matching politicians of color with criminal suspects.

Rekognition is not the only facial recognition technology that Amazon owns. The company also owns Ring, which has been developing its own proprietary facial recognition technology since 2016 and once had a "head of facial recognition research." More than 1,300 police departments have signed contracts with the home surveillance company to let them request footage from camera owners without warrants.

Amazon said in the blog post that the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children, as well as technology companies Thorn and Marinus Analytics, would still have access to Rekognition for human trafficking cases.

It’s unclear how Amazon will enforce the moratorium for police departments that already have access to Rekognition.

The announcement drew skepticism from some activist groups, including Mijente, which tweeted, "Let's hold off celebrating just yet."

Nothing in this statement about whether: 1) AWS will stop taking contracts from police agencies 2) ICE is using Rekognition, & if so, whether they'll now stop 3) No commitment to end to the Ring doorbell camera partnerships with police Let's hold off celebrating just yet.

Twitter

Amazon said that it hoped the one-year moratorium would "give Congress enough time to pass appropriate regulation of facial recognition use by police."

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

It made no indication of what would happen after the suspension expired.

UPDATE

This article was updated to include a response from Amazon.

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