Amazon Joins the Call for Legislation on Facial Recognition Tech

But it doesn’t want to curb ‘innovation’

Amazon said it supports 'an appropriate national legislative framework.' Amazon
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

Amazon has finally joined its peers in calling for the responsible use of facial recognition technology.

Like Microsoft, the move comes after the company took some heat over possible misuse. (And it follows Google’s vow not to use facial recognition “before working through important technology and policy questions.”)

In a blog post outlining its proposed guidelines, Amazon said it supports “calls for an appropriate national legislative framework” to protect civil rights and ensure governments are transparent. But it also calls for “continued innovation and practical application of the technology.”

These five guidelines mostly include parameters for law enforcement:

First, Amazon said facial recognition should be used in accordance with the law. AWS’ Acceptable Use Policy already included this, but Michael Punke, vice president of global public policy at AWS, said Amazon will “continue to offer our support to policymakers and legislators in identifying areas to develop guidance or legislation to clarify the proper application of those laws” if there is any ambiguity.

Second, Amazon said human review is necessary when facial recognition is used by law enforcement.

It should not be used “to make fully automated, final decisions that might result in a violation of a person’s civil rights” and matches should be “viewed in the context of other compelling evidence and not be used as the sole determinant for taking action,” Punke wrote.

“In the two-plus years we’ve been offering Amazon Rekognition, we have not received a single report of misuse by law enforcement,” Punke added.

It’s important to note, however, there are few laws governing the use of facial recognition in the U.S. that would compel an agency to report misuse. The NYPD, for example, refused to release information about its use of facial recognition technology to Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology, resulting in an ongoing lawsuit.

Third and fourth, Amazon recommends a 99 percent confidence threshold for law enforcement and said these agencies should be transparent about how they use the technology.

“We encourage law enforcement … to describe this use in regular transparency reports,” Punke said. “Such reports should indicate if and how facial recognition technology is being used and detail safeguards that have been put into place to protect citizens’ privacy and civil rights.”

Finally, Amazon said there should be a notice when facial recognition is used with video surveillance in public or commercial settings.

Punke said AWS also supports “the creation of a national legislative framework covering facial recognition through video and photographic monitoring on public or commercial premises.”

Amazon has faced criticism from the ACLU and MIT over algorithmic bias and potential for misuse.


@lisalacy lisa.lacy@adweek.com Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.
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