Yesterday Amazon announced that it was banning police from using its controversial Rekognition face recognition platform for one year. The move comes as Congress has recently proposed legislation for reforming the police. As part of that reform, Congress is also looking at stronger regulations to govern the use of facial recognition tech by police.
Such facial recognition tech has been proven to be racially biased. So, it was good news when Amazon announced they’ll ban police use of the tech for 12 months to “give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules” for its use, right?
The thing is, Amazon’s ban is more helpful for the company than the people its facial recognition tech targets. It’s a smart PR move that generates headlines that most people will see as favorable right now. But it’s 12-month moratorium doesn’t promote a significant change in the long run. And the ACLU has issued a statement saying as much. As Nicole Ozer, the technology and civil liberties director with the ACLU of Northern California, writes:
This surveillance technology’s threat to our civil rights and civil liberties will not disappear in a year. Amazon must fully commit to a blanket moratorium on law enforcement use of face recognition until the dangers can be fully addressed, and it must press Congress and legislatures across the country to do the same.
Ozer goes on to argue that Amazon “should also commit to stop selling surveillance systems like Ring that fuel the over-policing of communities of color.” She adds: “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.”
And ACLU isn’t alone in its criticism of Amazon’s tech. Lawmakers have been wary of it for years. But with the movements sweeping the country now, calling for policing reform, is there really hope for change on facial recognition use in law enforcement? There could be, but significant change will need to be lasting, not relegated to short moratoriums.