After facing scrutiny for its ties to police in the wake of the George Floyd protests, Amazon said Wednesday it would ban police from using its controversial facial recognition technology for one year.
Organizations working to end human trafficking, such as Thorn, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Marinus Analytics, can continue using the technology, which is called Rekognition.
In a statement, Amazon said it hopes Congress will pass legislation governing the use of facial recognition during the moratorium.
Civil rights activists say that facial recognition technology enables state surveillance and isn’t accurate enough to be used by police departments, especially because algorithms tend to have a more difficult time identifying people with darker skin, research has shown.
But even if facial recognition were 100% accurate, civil rights groups worry it can easily be abused by police departments to target protesters or undocumented immigrants.
IBM also announced this week it will no longer develop or research facial recognition technology.
“We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge,” Amazon said in a statement. “We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.”
Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights non-profit Fight For the Future, noted the moratorium wasn’t a full ban, allowing Amazon to continue “their project of building a massive, privately owned surveillance empire.”
While Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos released public statements this week affirming that Black Lives Matter, critics noted that the company has continued selling Rekognition to law enforcement agencies. Though activists and Amazon employees put pressure on Bezos to cut ties with police departments in 2018, the company stood firm at the time. “Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology. Imagine if customers couldn’t buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?” Amazon said in 2018.