Amazon extends moratorium on facial recognition software use by police

New Zealand police appointed independent experts last month to better understand the technology.
NZ police appointed independent experts last month to better understand the technology Photo credit: Getty Images

Global technology giant Amazon is extending its ban on the use of its facial recognition software by law enforcement until further notice.

It had originally stopped the use of Rekognition in June last year after the killing of George Floyd sparked protests against police brutality towards people of colour.

The company hasn't publicly commented on the reason for its decision to extend the moratorium.

Microsoft had previously announced it wouldn't provide its facial recognition software to police until laws on how it could be used without infringing on human rights or civil liberties were implemented.

Meanwhile, Google has supported a temporary ban until governments can regulate it appropriately.

Rekognition had previously been criticised for apparent racial bias, according to the Washington Post. It reported the software misidentified the gender of darker-skinned women in roughly 30 percent of their tests, but was "flawless" in identifying the gender of lighter-skinned men.

The use of facial recognition software in Aotearoa has been under scrutiny since it emerged police used Clearview AI to search for suspects without consulting with their bosses or with the Privacy Commissioner.

A Law Foundation New Zealand paper entitled Facial Recognition Technology: Towards a Legal and Ethical Framework was made public in December 2020, calling for a moratorium on any use of live automatic facial recognition by New Zealand police.

One of the authors of that paper, Dr Nessa Lynch, is one of two advisers that New Zealand Police appointed last month to better understand the technology.

Lynch and Dr Andrew Chen are two of New Zealand's leading experts and academic researchers in the field of facial recognition technology and will explore the current and possible future uses of the tech over the next six months.

"Facial recognition technology is a subject that draws strong interest, and sometimes distrust and controversy. Police recognises that and is seeking information and advice from independent experts," said Deputy Chief Executive Mark Evans.

The scope of their work includes:

  • Defining facial recognition technology
  • Categorising the spectrum of use and its potential effect on individual and collective rights and interests
  • Exploring what Police currently does in this space, and what planned and unused capability exists within the organisation
  • Providing insights and evidence into international practice and operational advantages for public safety and crime control, as well as Treaty of Waitangi, ethics, privacy and human rights implications
  • Producing a paper with advice and recommendations on the safe and appropriate use of facial recognition technology in New Zealand policing.

"The pace of technological change has outstripped law and regulation," said Dr Lynch.

"We welcome the opportunity to provide independent advice to assist New Zealand Police to develop and strengthen their policies for legal and ethical use of this technology."