Amazon extends ban on police use of Rekognition facial recognition technology

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Amazon Spheres. May 2019. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amazon, which one year ago barred police from using its facial recognition software, is extending that moratorium indefinitely.

The extension of the ban on police use of Amazon’s facial identification software called Rekognition, first reported by Reuters, comes after a year of growing public concern about privacy, government surveillance, and the extent of policing powers in the U.S.

The online retail giant first withheld use of the software by law enforcement last year when waves of protests erupted in cities across the country in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd during an arrest. Amazon, which previously had partnered with law enforcement in the use of Rekognition technology, came under attack by civil rights advocates who said the software unfairly targeted the wrong people for arrest and amounts to an invasion of privacy.

At the time, Amazon spokespeople said it would suspend law enforcement’s use of the software for one year. Reuters reported that the company declined to comment on the moratorium extension.

Rekognition is part of the company’s web services division, AWS. But the law enforcement ban didn’t extend to all users. At the time of the ban, Amazon reported that organizations searching for human trafficking victims still had access to the technology — which remains the case, an Amazon spokesperson said. In addition, Rekognition has a long list of existing customers, such as the NFL, C-SPAN, and CBS.

Around the same time, Microsoft also imposed a similar ban on the sale of its facial recognition technology to police. Microsoft President Brad Smith said the company isn’t selling or supplying facial recognition technology to any U.S. police department.

“This is a moment in time that really calls on us to listen more, to learn more, and most importantly to do more,” Smith said during a Washington Post virtual event last June.

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