Amazon joins call to legislate facial recognition tech

Cornelia Mascio
Febbraio 10, 2019

Legislators in the state of Washington (Amazon's home state) are considering a bill of their own, as they wait for federal rules.

The company said it was engaging with a US government institute that tests and compares different vendors' facial recognition technology, but that it was still not possible to "download" its algorithms for testing outside the cloud.

Writing about oversight and guidelines, Amazon Web Services VP of Global Public Policy, Michael Punke, says they need to make sure facial recognition isn't used for discrimination.

"The time for action has arrived", Smith wrote, adding that the industry must also exercise restraint while using this technology. "Instead, there should be open, honest and earnest dialogue among all parties involved to ensure that the technology is applied appropriately and is continuously enhanced".

In a screenshot of the apparent prompt provided to BuzzFeed News, the individual was told to provide the company with access to his webcam so that Amazon could "record a 5-second video of your face" that it said would be encrypted.

Speaking of the benefits of the technology, the Microsoft President mentioned that police in New Delhi recently trialed facial recognition technology and identified nearly 3,000 missing children in four days.

In New York City, where Amazon is planning to build a major new headquarters, city council members have often called out Amazon's marketing of Rekognition to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a business connection Amazon has declined to confirm exists.

In Thursday's blog post, Punke said the company came up with a legislative outline after discussing facial recognition with customers, researchers and policymakers over several months.

"We understand why people want there to be oversight and guidelines put in place to make sure facial recognition technology can not be used to discriminate", he wrote.

Experts are also pointing out that by collecting such videos, the online retailing giant's might be planning to use Rekognition, its facial recognition programme, to identify users.

Punke also writes that law enforcement should be transparent in its use of the technology, which means publishing regular transparency reports.

"Facial recognition should always be used in accordance with the law, including laws that protect civil rights". In it, Punke lays out the company's "proposed guidelines" for responsible use of facial recognition - five very broad ideas that include calling for high confidence thresholds, human review and transparency in cases where law enforcement agencies use the technology.

"Our communities are safer and better equipped to help in emergencies when we have the latest technology, including facial recognition technology, in our toolkit", Punke said.

Speaking to ZDNet's sister site CNET, ACLU senior legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani suggested the five proposals don't go far enough to protect civil liberties.

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