Amazon proposes facial recognition legislation to suspend violation of civil rights

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Amazon proposed facial recognition legislation which aims to put an end to discrimination and violation of civil rights after a study dubbed their facial recognition tool as racial and gender-biased. Amazon said that they’ve developed guidelines for the responsible use of facial recognition technology to encourage policymakers to consider using it as the basis for potential legislation.

In February, the research published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that Amazon Rekognition tool has an error rate of 31% when identifying images of non-white women.

Amazon’s general manager of artificial intelligence at AWS, Dr Matt Wood addressed the criticism by stating that the study is “misleading and drew false conclusions.” He said that Amazon Rekognition is designed to “match faces that appear similar” to authenticate an individuals’ identity. Therefore, to use facial recognition to gauge the accuracy of facial recognition is “ill-advised, as it’s not the intended algorithm for that‎ purpose.”

Amazon proposed facial recognition legislation to balance out innovation and mitigate potential risks

Amazon said today that over the past several months, they’ve talked to customers, researchers, academics, policymakers, and others to understand how to balance the benefits of facial recognition with the potential risks. Those discussions led to the development of their proposed guidelines for the responsible use of the technology. Here are the guidelines Amazon now encourages policymakers to consider as potential legislation and rules in the US and other countries:

1. Facial recognition should always be used in accordance with the law, including laws that protect civil rights

Amazon said that their customers are responsible for following the law in how they use the technology. The AWS Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) prohibits customers from using any AWS service, including Amazon Rekognition, to violate the law, and customers who violate our AUP will not be able to use our services. To the extent there may be ambiguities or uncertainties in how existing laws should apply to facial recognition technology, Amazon claims to have and to continue offering their support to policymakers and legislators in identifying areas to develop guidance or legislation to clarify the proper application of those laws.

2. When facial recognition technology is used in law enforcement, human review is a necessary component to ensure that the use of a prediction to make a decision does not violate civil rights

Amazon said that facial recognition is often used to ‘narrow the field’ from hundreds of thousands of potential matches to a handful; it is this capability that benefits society in many ways by making it easier and more efficient to complete tasks that would take humans far more time. However, Amazon states that facial recognition should not be used to make fully automated, final decisions that might result in a violation of a person’s civil rights. In these situations, human review of facial recognition results should be used to ensure rights are not violated.

3. When facial recognition technology is used by law enforcement for identification, or in a way that could threaten civil liberties, a 99% confidence score threshold is recommended

Confidence scores can be thought of as a measure of how much trust, said Amazon, a facial recognition system places in its own results; the higher the confidence score, the more the results can be trusted. Amazon said that when using facial recognition to identify persons of interest in an investigation, law enforcement should use the recommended 99% confidence threshold, and only use those predictions as one element of the investigation (not the sole determinant).

4. Law enforcement agencies should be transparent in how they use facial recognition technology

To create the greatest public confidence in responsible law enforcement use of facial recognition, Amazon encourage law enforcement entities to be transparent about their use of the technology and to describe this use in regular transparency reports. Amazon states that 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.

5. There should be a notice when video surveillance and facial recognition technology are used together in public or commercial settings.

Amazon said that there have been concerns about facial recognition technology and its potential use in connection with video monitoring in public or commercial settings. In many cases, this has already been addressed by states that have laws regulating the use of video cameras in public or commercial premises, such as shopping centres and restaurants. AWS supports the use of written, visible notices at these premises where video surveillance, including facial recognition, is in use.

New technology should not be banned or condemned because of its potential misuse. 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. AWS dedicates significant resources to ensure our technology is highly accurate and reduces bias, including using training data sets that reflect gender, race, ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity. We’re also committed to educating customers on best practices, and ensuring diverse perspectives in our technology development teams. We will continue to work with partners across industry, government, academia, and community groups on this topic because we strongly believe that facial recognition is an important, even critical, tool for business, government, and law enforcement use.”
– Michael Punke, VP, global public policy, AWS


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