Amazon Suspends Police From Using Facial Recognition Technology Amid Protests

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Amazon is suspending the police from using its facial recognition software amid protests over police brutality.

Amazon.com Inc. is temporarily restricting law-enforcement from using its facial-recognition software as it joins the growing legion of companies supporting reform of the system, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Facial-recognition technology has been scrutinized for its bias that misidentifies minorities more often than Caucasians. The scrutiny has increased as widespread protests broke out over the killing of George Floyd, a black man that was brutally murdered while in custody. Companies have shown support for the Black Lives Matter movement, but advocacy groups have requested action.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos responded to criticism over his support for the Black Lives Matter movement calling it "sickening." Furthermore, Amazon has supported strong government regulation of facial-recognition technology. “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.

On Monday, House Democrats introduced a bill that prohibits law enforcement from using real-time facial recognition technology. Amazon will continue to allow organizations that combat human trafficking and find missing children to use its software.

International Business Machines Corp. stated earlier this week that it had stopped developing and selling facial-recognition technology. IBM CEO Arvind Krishna wrote in a letter to Congress on Monday that the company would not be producing the software any longer and voiced his support for police reform.

“We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies,” Mr. Krishna said. “Artificial Intelligence is a powerful tool that can help law enforcement keep citizens safe,” he said. “But vendors and users of Al systems have a shared responsibility to ensure that Al is tested for bias, particularity when used in law enforcement, and that such bias testing is audited and reported.”

Facial recognition capabilities and accuracy have improved significantly in recent years. However, researchers and activists have noticed biases contained in algorithms. Two years ago, Massachusetts Institue of Technology researchers found differences in the accuracy of facial-recognition systems depending on sex and skin tone.

“Tweets and token donations mean nothing coming from a company that openly colludes with the agents and institutions of systemic racism and anti-Blackness,” said Myaisha Hayes, campaign strategies director at MediaJustice. “Amazon needs to examine its structural role in the systemic oppression of Black people.”

Amazon shareholders started calling for a review of the company's products and contribution to this issue. “Amazon partners with over 600 police departments, providing police with access to Ring doorbell video surveillance data,” the shareholder proposal said.

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