March 5, 2024


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Amazon to ban police from using facial-recognition software indefinitely

Online retail giant Amazon banned police departments from using its facial-recognition software, Rekognition, nearly a year ago, and it was supposed to last for one year. 

This week, the company announced the ban would continue indefinitely. 

Reuters was the first to report Amazon will not allow police agencies to use the software, which experts say inaccurately matches African Americans disproportionately. 

Facial recognition technology, shown in operation years ago in Sydney, Australia, misidentifies Black and Asian people up to 100 times more than white men. Still, it remains in use in major U.S. cities. (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

The company did not comment on the ban but had previously stated it hoped Congress would create a law that would ensure ethical use of the technology. No bill of the sort has been drawn up in the legislative body. 

“Face recognition technology fuels the over-policing of Black and Brown communities,” Nathan Freed Wessler, deputy project director at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Reuters, “and has already led to the false arrests and wrongful incarcerations of multiple Black men.”

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Other companies, like the pharmacy chain Rite Aid, have stopped using facial-recognition software in its stores, while Microsoft is awaiting federal regulation before allowing their proprietary software to be used by police agencies. 

A Michigan man sued Detroit police, with the help of the ACLU, after he was wrongfully identified by facial-recognition software. 

Robert Williams, a 43-year-old father who resides in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, was arrested in early January on charges that he stole watches from Shinola, a trendy accessories store in the city. Detroit Police used facial-recognition software on the store’s surveillance camera footage and wrongfully identified him as the thief.

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Studies have shown that facial-recognition systems misidentify Black and Asian people up to 100 times more than white men. Still, it remains in use in major U.S. cities.

Williams’ lawsuit specifically names Police Chief James Craig, who announced his resignation this month. Craig, an African American, is reportedly considering a run as the Republican challenger to Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer

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