We could see federal regulation on face recognition as early as next week
On May 10, 40 advocacy groups sent an open letter demanding a permanent ban of the use of Amazon’s facial recognition software, Rekognition, by US police. The letter was addressed to Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy, the company’s current and incoming CEOs, and came just weeks before Amazon’s year-long moratorium on sales to law enforcement was set to expire.
The letter contrasted Bezos’s and Jassy’s vocal support of Black Lives Matter campaigners during last summer’s racial justice protests after the murder of George Floyd with reporting that other Amazon products have been used by law enforcement to identify protestors.
On May 17, Amazon announced it would extend its moratorium indefinitely, joining competitors IBM and Microsoft in self-regulated purgatory. The move is a nod at the political power of the groups fighting to curb the technology—and recognition that new legislative battle grounds are starting to emerge. Many believe that substantial federal legislation is likely to come soon.
“People are exhausted”
The past year has been pivotal for face recognition, including revelations of the technology leading to false arrests, and bans on it put in place by almost two dozen cities and seven states across the US. But the momentum around face recognition has been shifting for some time.
In 2018, AI researchers published a study comparing the accuracy of commercial facial recognition software from IBM, Microsoft and Face++. Their work found significant accuracy gaps between how the technology identified lighter skinned men versus darker skinned women; IBM’s system scored the worst with a 34.4% error rate between the two groups.
Also in 2018, the ACLU tested Amazon’s Rekognition and found that it misidentified 28 members of Congress as criminals—disproportionately focused on people of color. The organization wrote its own open letter to Amazon, demanding that the company ban government use of the technology, as did the Congressional Black Caucus—but Amazon made no changes.