EXCLUSIVE-Amazon extends moratorium on police use of facial recognition software

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May 18 (Reuters) - Inc told Reuters on Tuesday it is extending until further notice a moratorium that it imposed last year on police use of its facial recognition software.

The company had halted the practice for one year starting in June 2020. Its announcement came at the height of protests across the United States against police brutality toward people of color, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minnesota.

Civil liberties advocates have long warned that inaccurate face matches by law enforcement could lead to unjust arrests, as well as to a loss of privacy and chilled freedom of expression.

Amazon’s extension of its ban underscores how facial recognition remains a sensitive issue for big companies. The world’s largest online retailer did not comment on the reason for its decision.

Last year, it had said it hoped Congress would put in place rules to ensure ethical use of the technology, though no such law has materialized.

Amazon offers face-matching with “Rekognition,” a service from its cloud computing division. Customers relying on the program to find human trafficking victims have still had access to the facial recognition capabilities, Amazon has said.

Critics have noted a study showing Rekognition struggled to determine the gender of individuals with darker skin tones, research that Amazon has contested.

Due to Amazon’s prominence and prior defense of facial recognition, its moratorium has carried significance.

Rival Microsoft Corp said shortly after Amazon's June announcement that it would await U.S. federal regulation before selling its face recognition software to police. Pharmacy chain Rite Aid Corp also said it stopped use here of the technology at stores the following month. (Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco Editing by Chris Reese, Peter Graff and Nick Zieminski)