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USA: Amazon CEO announces support for facial recognition regulation while own product faces privacy & discrimination-related concerns

Amazon's CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, has expressed support for some regulation of facial recognition technologies and shared that Amazon's public policy is working on crafting facial recognition regulation. 

Some civil society groups, including the ACLU and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, have raised multiple concerns about privacy and discrimination associated with Amazon's product Rekognition and see a conflict of interest with company staff working on draft regulation.

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12 June 2020

Amazon halts police use of Rekognition; Access Now calls for creation of human rights team at the company

Author: Access Now

Amazon announced Wednesday that it would place a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial recognition software, Rekognition. The brief statement comes just two days after IBM announced in a letter to Congress that it would no longer offer general purpose facial recognition software... “The move by Amazon, as sudden as it appears, comes after years of pressure by civil society groups, investors, and other advocates calling on the company to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement,” said Isedua Oribhabor, U.S. Policy Analyst at Access Now... During Amazon’s Annual General Meeting on May 27, shareholders voted on multiple proposals relating to Rekognition and other surveillance technology the company produces. Though the shareholder proposals did not pass, this move indicates that Amazon is responding to the concerns of its shareholders and of civil society... “Hitting the pause button is a small step in the right direction, but is not enough,” said Oribhabor. “At a minimum, Amazon must create a cross-functional human rights team and perform human rights impact assessments to truly evaluate the effects that its tech products have on... human rights.

... “Although strong regulation and safeguards can mitigate certain harms, we need to accept that certain uses of technology, such as biometric recognition systems that enable mass surveillance, are so incompatible with the protection of fundamental rights that these systems simply should not be used,” said Daniel Leufer, Mozilla Fellow at Access Now... Facial recognition and other surveillance software pose serious risks for human rights including freedom of assembly and privacy, some of which can be mitigated only by comprehensive and robust privacy and data protection laws in the United States.

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12 June 2020

Amazon implements a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial recognition technology & supports federal regulation in the US

Author: Bobby Allyn, NPR

"Amazon halts police use of its facial recognition technology," 

Amazon announced on Wednesday a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial-recognition technology, yielding to pressure from police-reform advocates and civil rights groups... Microsoft President Brad Smith told The Washington Post during a livestream Thursday morning that his company has not been selling its technology to law enforcement. Smith said he has no plans to until there is a national law.

... Congressional Democrats are seeking to regulate the technology in sweeping police reform legislation... [t]he proposed bill would limit how much federal law enforcement officials could use facial recognition technology, including a ban on using the software with police body-worn cameras... Amazon officials say the company supports federal regulation for its algorithm-driven facial recognition software, known as Rekognition. "We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested," the company said in a statement.

... Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director with the ACLU of Northern California, said a blanket ban on the technology is needed, but she welcomed Amazon's one-year pause, saying it shows that the company is "finally recognizing the dangers face recognition poses to black and brown communities and civil rights more broadly."... "Face recognition technology gives governments the unprecedented power to spy on us wherever we go. It fuels police abuse. This surveillance technology must be stopped."

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16 October 2019

Amazon announces facial recognition support after own technology faces privacy concerns

Author: Todd Bishop, GeekWire

"Bezos: Facial recognition 'a perfect example' of the need for regulation, and Amazon is working on it", 25 September 2019

[At an Amazon press reception, Jeff Bezos said] ... “It makes a lot of sense for there to be some standards in how [facial recognition] works, and that kind of stability would be probably healthy for the whole industry. It’s a perfect example of where regulation is needed... Our public policy team is actually working on facial recognition regulation.” ...Facial recognition is one of the biggest areas where Amazon has come under scrutiny from privacy and civil rights activists, largely because of the use of its Rekognition technology by law enforcement... Amazon’s practice of selling its Rekognition software to police rankles civil rights groups, like the ACLU, who worry the technology will negatively impact over-policed communities. The ACLU and other researchers have published studies that show facial recognition technology misidentifies women and people of color more frequently because of the training data the software is fed.

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16 October 2019

Amazon's plan for facial recognition laws faces skepticism from civil society

Author: Alfred Ng, CNET

"Amazon's plan for facial recognition laws faces skeptics," 26 Sept 2019

On [September 25, Jeff Bezos announced], "Our public policy team is actually working on facial recognition regulations, and it makes a lot of sense to regulate that... It's a perfect example of something that has really positive uses... [but] there's also potential for abuses of that kind of technology..." [C]ivil rights groups raised their concerns... expressing skepticism at Bezos' statement..."If Amazon is really interested in preventing these dangers, the first thing it should do is stop pushing surveillance tools into our communities without regard for the impact," [said] the ACLU's senior legislative counsel, Neema Singh Guliani... "Lawmakers should be skeptical of weak industry proposals that sacrifice individuals rights in the interest of profit."... Microsoft is also urging governments to enact legislation regarding the technology, warning that it could "exacerbate societal issues."... Lawmakers have already proposed several bills on facial recognition, including legislation that would ban the technology in public housing and in businesses... "We can't trust the companies that have profited off of biased facial recognition systems for years to now write their own rules," said the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, Albert Fox Cahn. "Amazon's push for federal regulations is a cynical ploy to undercut the growing list of state laws that ban facial recognition like its own Rekognition system." 

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