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Amazon bans police use of facial recognition technology for one year

Jeff Bezos

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Amazon said on Wednesday that it’s banning use of its facial recognition software by police for one year, as pressure on tech companies increases to respond to the killing by a police officer in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an unarmed black man.

“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.”

The announcement comes two days after IBM said it was exiting the facial recognition business, with CEO Arvind Krishna calling on Congress to enact reforms to advance racial justice and combat systemic racism. Also on Monday, Democratic lawmakers unveiled a sweeping police reform bill, and on Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on preventing police brutality.

Rekognition has been a controversial topic for Amazon even before the latest spate of nationwide protests against police violence. The technology has been used by law enforcement agencies and was reportedly pitched to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the U.S. Amazon Web Services has said in the past that the technology is used by organizations that work with law enforcement to advocate for victims of crime.

Research has indicated that facial recognition software may hold racial and gender bias. Last year Joy Buolamwini, founder of Algorithmic Justice League, testified about research into the subject for Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her findings helped provide the basis of a shareholder vote that Amazon held last year, with 2.4% of shareholders voting in favor of banning the sale of the technology to government agencies.

— CNBC’s Lauren Hirsch contributed to this report

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