Amazon will block police from using its Rekognition facial recognition tool for one year
Close on the heels of IBM announcing the closure of its facial recognition tool, Amazon has now announced it will block the use of its infamous facial recognition tool, Rekognition by the law enforcement authorities for one year.
Amazon’s Rekognition facial recognition tool is a system built to identify a person from an image or video. This technology has been around for decades, but its usage has become more noticeable, and accessible, in the past few years as it now powers innovative solutions, such as personal photo applications and secondary authentication for mobile devices. To understand these emerging capabilities, let’s first discuss how facial recognition works.
Facial analysis capabilities, such as those available in Amazon Rekognition, allow users to understand where faces exist in an image or video, as well as what attributes those faces have. For example, Amazon Rekognition can analyze attributes such as eyes open or closed, mood, hair color, as well as the visual geometry of a face. These detected attributes become increasingly useful for customers that need to organize or search through millions of images in seconds using metadata tags. It is known to give false positives as we noticed when it identified the U.S. and U.K. politicians as criminals while comparing their images with mug shots of prisoners.
On Wednesday Amazon declared a one-year moratorium on the use of its facial recognition technology by the police authorities. The company hopes the move will give time to place regulations on the technology’s usage.
We will continue to allow organizations like Thorn, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Marinus Analytics to use Amazon Rekognition to help rescue human trafficking victims and reunite missing children with their families.
Amazon’s promotion of Rekognition to law enforcement has been controversial for multiple reasons, ranging from its low accuracy rates to how it’s been used for petty crimes like shoplifting. The company’s own employees have also protested against Amazon offering facial recognition to law enforcement.
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.
Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director with the ACLU of Northern California, said she’s glad Amazon is finally recognizing “the dangers face recognition poses to black and brown communities and civil rights more broadly,” even if it took two years to get here. But she also questioned the one-year timeframe.
“This surveillance technology’s threat to our civil rights and civil liberties will not disappear in a year,” she added. “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.”
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