Amazon Pauses Police Use of Its Facial Recognition Software

Nicole Hardy-Smith with the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, uses a facial recognition software tool to provide identity resolution on cold cases. Photo by Carline Jean/Sun Sentinel/TNS

Answering widespread demands for new curbs on aggressive policing in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, Amazon is halting law enforcement use of its facial recognition platform for one year, the company said Wednesday.

The company has marketed its software platform, called Rekognition, to law enforcement agencies for years, and its short blog post announcing the shift did not provide an explicit reason for the change of direction. The post did note that Amazon supports federal regulation of facial recognition technology, and that the company hopes the one-year moratorium “might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules.”

The move came two days after IBM announced that it was getting out of the facial recognition business entirely, citing ethical concerns over the powerful technology. In a letter to Congress, the company’s chief executive, Arvind Krishna, wrote that “IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any [facial recognition] technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms,” or any other purpose that goes against the company’s core principles.

Cities around the country, including Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, have banned the technology’s use by public agencies outright over fears that the software, which employs machine learning algorithms to automatically detect human faces in digital video and match them to names, presents too great a risk to privacy to be used responsibly.

A 2019 California law banned the use of facial recognition software — and any other biometric surveillance that can identify people by tattoo, gait or other individually distinguishable characteristics — on photos or video collected by law enforcement agencies.

The text of the law summarized the concerns about the use of the technology, calling its potential widespread application the “functional equivalent of requiring every person to show a personal photo identification card at all times in violation of recognized constitutional rights,” regardless of consent. It added that its use runs the risk of creating massive, unregulated databases about Californians never suspected of committing a crime, and “may chill the exercise of free speech in public places” as the identities of anyone in a crowd could be immediately discerned.

Amazon has been one of the leading providers of facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies in recent years, a role that has drawn criticism. In June 2018, the Washington state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union called on the Seattle company to stop providing the technology to governments, including local law enforcement.

The Amazon executive who oversees Rekognition told reporters at PBS’s “Frontline” in February that the company did not know how many police departments used the technology. “We have 165 services in our technology infrastructure platform,” said Andrew Jassy, c​​hief executive of Amazon Web Services, “and you can use them in any combination you want.”

Fight for the Future, a digital rights group that has been leading a coalition calling for an outright ban on facial recognition technology in all applications, said a one-year pause is not enough.

“This is nothing more than a public relations stunt from Amazon,” Evan Greer, deputy director at Fight for the Future, said in a statement. Greer said the appeal for federal regulation is consistent with a strategy — familiar from the fight over California’s landmark privacy law passed last year — in which powerful tech companies lobby for broad federal regulation that is ultimately weaker than state or municipal-level regulation of their business.
By Sam Dean | Los Angeles Times

Gov. Parson Promises to Put End to Civil Unrest

Adjutant Gen. Levon Cumpton, leader of the Missouri National Guard, speaks during a news conference June 2, 2020, as Gov. Mike Parson looks on. Photo by Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont) / News Tribune.

George Floyd should never have died the way he did, and law enforcement involved should be held accountable for it, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson reiterated Tuesday. But Parson also did not mince words when he said the violence that’s followed some of the protests in Missouri over Floyd’s death and broader issues of injustice will not be tolerated.

Parson said he’s calling up more than 1,000 Missouri National Guard troops to help support the Missouri Highway Patrol and local law enforcement agencies.

The announcement came after a particularly violent night in St. Louis, where a retired St. Louis police officer was killed by looters and four other law enforcement officers were shot.

Parson said the people who shot the retired officer should be held accountable — “and no, they’re not protesters. They’re criminals, and they’re thugs, and they need to be held accountable,” the governor said.

“We’re not going to have police officers, we’re not going to have citizens of Missouri being shot in our streets in this state, and we’re going to put an end to it with whatever forces I have as governor of the state of Missouri, whether that’s every member of the Highway Patrol, whether it’s every member of the National Guard — I will call up all that to stop the violence in this state,” Parson said.

George Floyd, a black man, died May 25 in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department after a white officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd pleaded for air. That officer has since been charged with murder.

Parson eclared a state of emergency in Missouri on May 30 due to civil unrest, activating the Missouri National Guard to support civilian authorities and provide other assistance as needed.

The National Guard has already been ready to offer assistance to authorities; Guard members were involved with monitoring Monday night’s protests in Jefferson City, which were peaceful, and were followed by minor property damage in the form of broken windows at downtown businesses after the protest had ended.

The latest state of emergency will end only with a subsequent executive order — unlike the state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic, which is currently set to expire June 15.

Parson activated the National Guard on March 26 to help with response to the pandemic, and the Guard is still doing that as well, particularly to assist with testing for the disease.

Adjutant Gen. Levon Cumpton, leader of the Missouri National Guard, said that despite being “deeply engaged” with the COVID-19 response, there are more than 10,000 troops ready to assist the Highway Patrol and local law enforcement.

“Law and order has to take place in this country for us all to survive, and we will commit to local enforcement,” Parson said.

Department of Public Safety Director Sandra Karsten said the Highway Patrol offered assistance Monday night in St. Louis, Springfield, Jefferson City and other areas.

Once protests end, Parson said, people should go home, and he encouraged protests to happen only in daylight.

“Things need to be done different in society. We need to address issues that the African-American community has, but not through violence, not through what we’re seeing out there on the streets,” the governor said.

When it comes to law enforcement officers’ decisions of when and how to disperse crowds or otherwise use means such as tear gas, rubber projectiles and marker rounds, Karsten said: “Those (decisions) are made by commanders on the scene observing what’s taking place, and once an unlawful activity has occurred, the commander has the option to take further action,” in​​cluding use of chemical munitions.

“Kansas City, as well as other agencies that I’ve observed take great steps to avoid doing that, but when forced into the situation after having provided many warnings, they will take action,” Karsten said.

“There are after-action reviews on some of these activities, and many agencies will conduct a debriefing afterwards,” she added.

By Phillip Sitter | News Tribune