Amazon Extends Moratorium on Police Use of Facial Recognition Software

Amazon announced that it is extending until further notice a moratorium it imposed last year on police use of its facial recognition software, Reuters reported. Amazon halted the practice for one year starting in June 2020, during the hight of protests across the United States against police brutality toward people of color.

Reuters was the first to report that Amazon’s extension underscores how facial recognition remains a sensitive issue for big companies. According to Reuters, Amazon said last year it hoped Congress would put in place rules to ensure ethical use of the technology. No such law has materialized.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation responded to this news in a tweet: “After a year of organizing by civil liberties and racial justice orgs, Amazon will indefinitely extend its moratorium on selling face recognition tech to police. The admission of those harms must be accompanied by ending Amazon’s Ring-police partnerships.”

The Guardian provided some details about the Ring-police partnerships:

Ring video doorbells, Amazon’s signature home security product, pose a serious threat to a free and democratic society. Not only is Ring’s surveillance network spreading rapidly, it is extending the reach of law enforcement into private property and expanding the surveillance of everyday life. What’s more, once Ring users agree to release video content to law enforcement, there is no way to revoke access and few limitations on how the content can used, stored, and with whom it can be shared.

According to The Guardian, since Amazon bought Ring in 2018, it has brokered more than 1,800 partnerships with local law enforcement agencies, who can request recorded video content from Ring users without a warrant.

It is good that Amazon is indefinitely continuing its moratorium on police use of its facial recognition software, but this should be considered a good start. Until and unless Amazon uncouples Ring video content from access by law enforcement agencies, innocent people can still be surveilled by local police.