Following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, major tech corporations have been facing public pressures to respond one way or the other to the inhuman incident. Amazon has therefore responded by prohibiting the use of its facial recognition software, Rekognition, by the police for one year, CNBC reports.
Amazon in a statement said they have always pressured the government to strictly regulate the use of facial recognition technology, and that the one-year ban on the police use of the software should “give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules” for the ethical use of the system. Amazon announced this decision two days after IBM said it was getting out of the facial recognition business.
A member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Rep. Jimmy Gomez, said the committee had met several to evaluate the impacts of facial recognition software and that an appropriate bill may be passed this year. He however stated that Congress would have gone past this stage if Amazon had been so cooperative before now.
“They’re saying, ‘we’ve been asking Congress to put guardrails on the use of this technology,’ – but every time we tried to get more and more data they stalled – and we had to have hearings to make movement on the issue,” Gomez said.
According to the lawmaker, the committee had made numerous requests for Amazon to provide more data on how the technology works as well as information on customers who already acquired it, but the tech company had not been very forthcoming. The only customer that the company listed on its website is the Washington County Sheriff Office in Oregon, even though it is widely believed that hundreds of police departments across the country use Amazon’s Rekognition.
The technology corporation allegedly marketed Rekognition to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but it is not clear if the agency presently makes use of it. Amazon had once stated that the software is designed for agencies and organizations that work with law enforcement to advocate for crime victims. The company stated the technology can identify objects, scenes, and faces in photographs, and even determine whether an individual is happy, sad, or afraid of their facial expressions.
In 2019, 2.4% of Amazon shareholders voted to ban the sale of Rekognition to government agencies after the founder of Algorithmic Justice League, Joy Buolamwini, told the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that facial recognition technology may hold gender and racial biases.