Amazon has announced a one-year moratorium in police use of their facial recognition software, Rekognition. A tool as powerful as it is controversial, it has faced harsh criticism from civil rights organizations and Amazon employees themselves.
George Floyd’s murder aims to become a symbol for trying to change things. The massive protests over police abuses and the response with the Black Lives Matter movement are putting pressure on American politicians (and others from various countries), the Trump administration that has lowered several points in the polls (in election year) and also on the great technologies that collaborate and that for critics are co-responsible for using very dangerous solutions in the wrong hands.
Facial recognition technologies have advanced dramatically in the past decade and today they are easy to obtain, deploy, and use. Examples of its use in consumption range from the Face ID of the iPhone X and similar systems on other smartphones, to Windows Hello using IR cameras on computers with compatible Windows 10, through automatic Facebook tagging.
Like other technologies -see the problem of Artificial Intelligence- its use has advantages and disadvantages. The U.S. Congress has been weighing regulation of its use for months, and a few days ago Democrats introduced a police reform bill that, among other things, would ban the use of real-time facial recognition without court approval. While there are positive use scenarios, its use for mass espionage and detection of protesters is also known.
Facial recognition and the great technologies
Amazon has been facing harsh criticism for years for supplying facial recognition technology to law enforcement without any guarantees and control of an ethical and surely legal use. Powered by Amazon cloud computing company AWS, the Rekognition tool is one of the powerful tools out there and can recognize up to 100 faces in real time in one second.
Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through a petition under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that it was being used to mass surveillance It could affect, above all, the most vulnerable groups and communities, non-white citizens and immigrants. Requests for Amazon to stop supplying governments with this type of software have been large and has not come so far. Of course, it has not been reported when the moratorium will begin or what police forces or agencies it will affect.
“We have advocated that governments establish stricter regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in the last days, Congress seems ready to take on this challenge, “they say from Amazon. “We hope that this one-year moratorium can give Congress enough time to implement the appropriate rules, and we are ready to help if they request it.”
The American Civil Liberties Union is not satisfied. “The threat from this surveillance technology to our civil rights and liberties will not go away in a year,” wrote the organization’s chief technology officer. “Amazon must fully commit to a general moratorium on the use of facial recognition by law enforcement until the dangers can be fully addressed, and it must pressure Congress and lawmakers across the country to do the same.” .
And it’s not just Amazon under pressure. Google lost a major contract to the “rebellion” of 4,000 employees who signed an internal petition demanding that their company exit Project Maven, a military artificial intelligence and machine learning program powered by the US Department of Defense with goals how to automatically classify images of objects and people for military use.
300 experts in robotics, artificial intelligence, international relations, security, ethics and law, put all technology companies in the spotlight with an open letter demanding a precise regulation and corporate-ethical responsibility. “Defense Department contracts signal a dangerous alliance between the private technology industry, currently in possession of large amounts of confidential personal data collected from people around the world, and a country’s military.”
IBM This week it sent a document to lawmakers to announce that it was suspending the general commercialization of its technology for these uses. And Microsoft is missing, another company heavily criticized for these uses with huge government contracts, but which had also called for regulation. “Facial recognition technology gives governments unprecedented power to spy on us,” they emphasize from the American Civil Liberties Union. “We urge Microsoft and other companies to join IBM, Google, and Amazon to move to the right side of the story.”