Amazon pauses police use of its facial recognition software

SAN FRANCISCO • Amazon.com has said it was implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial recognition software, halting a business it had long defended as many protested over law enforcement brutality against people of colour.

The decision follows a two-year battle between Amazon and civil liberties activists, who have voiced concern that inaccurate facial matches could lead to unjust arrests.

The death of Mr George Floyd, a black man who died under the knee of a white police officer last month, has fanned worries that facial recognition would be used unfairly against protesters.

Critics have pointed to a past study showing that Amazon's Rekognition service struggled to identify the gender of individuals with darker skin, research that Amazon has contested.

The firm, which sells cloud computing technology via its Amazon Web Services division, said in a statement that it has pushed for regulations to ensure the software was used ethically.

"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 on Wednesday.

The US Congress has been weighing possible regulation of the technology for months.

On Monday, IBM wrote to lawmakers to say that it is no longer offering facial recognition generally, while rival Microsoft has turned down some sales and backed regulations but not a moratorium.

Ms Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, gave Amazon credit while calling for a more "blanket" moratorium.

PUSH FOR REGULATION

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

AMAZON, in a Wednesday statement.

"Face recognition technology gives governments the unprecedented power to spy on us," Ms Ozer said.

"We urge Microsoft and other companies to join IBM, Google and Amazon in moving towards the right side of history."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2020, with the headline 'Amazon pauses police use of its facial recognition software'. Print Edition | Subscribe