Amazon's surprising reversal in selling facial recognition software to the police this week has helped the company earn goodwill at a time when law enforcement technology is being scrutinized.
However, some civil rights groups and racial justice activists say the one-year moratorium on recognizing sales to the police is a trivial concession.
"The threat to our civil rights and civil liberties from this surveillance technology will not go away in a year," said Nicole Ozer, director of technology and civil liberties at ACLU in Northern California, in a statement. "Amazon must fully commit to a blanket moratorium on law enforcement use of face recognition until the threats can be fully addressed, and push Congress and lawmakers across the country to do the same. You should also commit to discontinue the sale of surveillance systems, such as ring, that fire the over-police of the color communities. "
This is a pretty tight hold – only when used by the police and not when collecting facial data or providing additional access or deletion rights.
I mean it's still a win. But doesn't address many problems. https://t.co/mHGT1NbqiR
– Amie Stepanovich (@astepanovich) June 10, 2020
Amazon's role as a technology provider to the police has placed the company in a difficult position in the past two weeks as its leaders want to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos have released strong messages of support for demonstrators across the country, but critics quickly pointed out that Amazon continues to deliver technology to police officers who disproportionately monitor color communities.
"Face recognition technology is giving governments the unprecedented power to spy on us everywhere," said Ozer. "It stirs up abuse by the police. This surveillance technology must be stopped. "
The ACLU has resisted the introduction of facial recognition technology by the police for years. The software has reportedly misidentified women and colored people more often than white men. A federal study published in December found that Asians and African Americans were misidentified up to 100 times more often than whites. according to the Washington Post. The report builds on findings from MIT and the ACLU that Amazon has long disputed.
@ACLU has fought for years against Amazon selling facials to the police. Me & @jovialjoy tested their technology and showed clearly biased performance. They tried to discredit us, to deny our results. You even set a shareholder vote. https://t.co/3Rd4kTadiZ
– Deb Raji (@rajiinio) June 10, 2020
"It took Amazon two years to reach this point, but we're happy that the company is finally realizing the dangers of recognizing black and brown communities and broader civil rights," said Ozer.
The announcement from Amazon came two days later IBM said it would handle its facial recognition products in response to the national racial justice movement. The ACLU is asking Microsoft to follow in the footsteps of IBM and Amazon.
Amazon and Microsoft are two leading developers of facial recognition software. Both companies have called for technology regulation. Amazon said on Wednesday that the one-year ban will give Congress time to consider what could happen if law enforcement legislation progresses.
Amazon said it would continue to allow organizations like Thorn, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Marinus Analytics to use recognition to "save trafficking victims and reunite missing children with their families."