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Amazon extends ban on police use of its facial recognition software ‘until further notice’

Amazon extends ban on police use of its facial recognition software ‘until further notice’


Use of the program, called Rekognition, was controversial

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Amazon has extended its moratorium on law enforcement use of its facial recognition software “until further notice,” according to Reuters. The ban was set to expire in June.

As early as 2018, Amazon employees had pushed Amazon to scale back the project, arguing that documented racial bias in facial recognition could exacerbate police violence against minorities. Amazon defended the project until June 2020, when increased pressure from widespread protests led to the company announcing a yearlong moratorium on police clients for the service.

Rekognition is offered as an AWS service, and many of Amazon’s cloud computing competitors have similar technology. Microsoft announced that it would also not be selling its facial recognition services to police the day after Amazon’s pledge, and IBM said that it would stop developing or researching facial recognition tech altogether the same week. Google doesn’t commercially offer its facial recognition technology to anyone.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to request for comment about why the ban was being extended. In a statement provided when the ban on law enforcement use was first issued, Amazon said it hoped Congress would use the year provided by the moratorium to implement rules surrounding the ethical use of facial recognition technology. Part of its statement read:

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

So far, no federal legislation has addressed police use of facial recognition, but a number of state and local measures have passed paring back use of the technology. San Francisco was the first US city to ban government use of facial recognition in May 2019, with Oakland following soon after. The Oregon and Maine cities of Portland also passed legislation around the tech in late 2020. The state of Massachusetts failed to pass a proposed ban in December 2020 but has recently passed a modified bill that adds some restrictions on police use of facial recognition.