Amazon Voted Against Stopping ‘Rekognition’ Sale To Law Enforcement

Shareholders from Amazon almost unanimously voted against banning the sale of Rekonition to law enforcement and other government agencies.Amazon is criticized for selling FR tech to police. Photo: Alessandro Benassi, Solid Pixel | Creative Commons | CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Despite the growing criticism and pressure from both the scientific community and civil rights activists, shareholders from Amazon almost unanimously voted against the proposal to ban the selling of their facial recognition technology software called ‘Rekognition’ to government and law enforcement agencies, a regulatory filing on Friday revealed.

While a little more support was given over another proposal, which aims to review and audit the software following the claims of it being biased racially. Only 2.4% of the shareholders voted in support of the ban, and only 27.5% voted for the call for a study to review Rekognition.

Polarized public opinions were raised amid Amazon’s sale of their facial recognition technology to Oregon and Florida law enforcement with some citing false matches and wrongful arrest while some argue that the technology was able to keep the public safe.

In January, Amazon came into heavy scrutiny after researchers from MIT and the University of Toronto have found out that their facial analysis software mistakes dark-skinned women to men. Results have shown that Amazon’s facial analysis have mistaken 31% of black women as men compared to 7% of white women being mistaken to men. The results also revealed that the analysis for men has essentially no identification.

Eighty-five social justice advocates, human rights activists, and religious groups have collectively sent a letter to Microsoft, Google, and Amazon to ask them not to market their facial recognition software to the government.

Google has said that it will not be selling its technology unless all racial bias and misidentification issues are addressed while Microsoft has acknowledged that it is their company’s duty to ensure that their technology is used responsibly. On the other hand, Amazon has reportedly given a demonstration of their product to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and will pilot the use of Rekognition to the FBI.

Ever since, Amazon argues that those who will use the software must follow the law. However, there is yet any law to regulate the use of facial recognition technology against people.

These and other Amazon resolutions by shareholders faced an uphill battle to winning majority support, with Amazon’s board recommending against them and founder and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos controlling 16% of the stock and voting rights.

It is with this kind of resistance that lawmakers are trying to step in to move to regulate facial recognition technology. A few weeks ago, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban the use of the facial recognition system by the police and other city agencies.

In the said ban, the California Legislature is considering a proposal to prohibit the use of facial recognition technology on body cameras worn by the police. This is a step up from the already existing senatorial bipartisan bill that exempts police applications but set limits on how private businesses can use the technology.

Other states and cities are also considering a ban on facial recognition. Similar legislation is also pending in Oakland, California and another was proposed in Somerville, Massachusetts.

In a move to regulate the use of facial recognition technology by commercial institutions and to forward the cause to protect people’s privacy, two US senators also have introduced a bill to prohibit companies from using facial recognition system data for identifying or tracking purposes without people’s consent.

“Our faces are our identities. They’re personal. So the responsibility is on companies to ask people for their permission before they track and analyze their face,” Senator Schatz, ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, said.

“Consumers are increasingly concerned about how their data is being collected and used, including data collected through facial recognition technology,” said Senator Blunt. “That’s why we need guardrails to ensure that, as the technology continues to develop, it is implemented responsibly. This bill increases transparency and consumer choice by requiring individuals to give informed consent before commercial entities can collect and share data gathered through FR.”

The bipartisan move, known as the Commercial Facial Recognition Privacy Act of 2019, was introduced by US Senators Roy Blunt and Brian Schatz in a bid to protect people’s facial recognition data and make it much harder for the data to be sold, now that information is treated as currency.

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