Amazon Extends Pause on Police Use of Facial Recognition Tech

Amazon.com Inc. is indefinitely extending a moratorium on police use of its facial recognition software, according to a person familiar with the matter, an indication that the company has failed to resolve questions about the technology’s ability to correctly recognize people with dark skin.

Amazon announced a yearlong pause last June to give lawmakers time to regulate the technology. Experiments showing algorithms sometimes struggle to identify people of color sparked concerns that African Americans could be mistakenly implicated as criminal suspects.

Amazon Web Services released the software, called Rekognition, in 2016. It identifies objects in still images and video. Police can use the technology to find suspects in criminal investigations by running surveillance footage against photo databases, including those of current and former inmates.

News about the extension was reported earlier by Reuters.

Amazon rivals Microsoft Corp. and Google have similar capabilities. Amazon’s software became the focus of an intense debate about the potential for powerful new software to undermine human rights after the American Civil Liberties Union argued that such tools could misidentify people. The group highlighted Amazon’s relationship with a sheriff’s office in Oregon and the city of Orlando, two customers Amazon had touted in marketing materials.

Amazon defended selling Rekognition to law enforcement, but pressure on the company intensified after a January 2019 study by two artificial intelligence researchers showed the software made more mistakes when used on people with darker skin, particularly women. Separately, the ACLU tested the software on members of Congress and found it falsely matched 28 of them with mugshots, disproportionately selecting minority lawmakers.

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