Daily Digest (6/11)

Amazon Bars Police Use of Facial-Recognition Technology for a Year; Google AI Researcher Suggests Facial-Recognition Ban for Law Enforcement; Zoom Closed Account of U.S.-based Chinese Activist to ‘Comply With Local Law’; Privacy Advocates Raise Concerns About Police Body Cameras at Protests. Click “Continue reading” below.

Amazon Bars Police Use of Facial-Recognition Technology for a Year

Amazon Inc. on Wednesday banned police use of its face-recognition technology for a year, a day after IBM made a similar decision, as such systems have been criticized for incorrectly identifying people with darker skin.

The Seattle-based Amazon did not say why it acted now in a blog post.

Protests fueled by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis have focused attention on racial injustice in the U.S. and how police use technology to track people.

Civil rights groups and Amazon employees have pushed the company to stop selling its technology, called Rekognition, to government agencies, arguing it could be used to invade people’s privacy and target minorities.

“We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial-recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge,” Amazon said in the post.

“We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.”

The company has attracted outsized attention since it introduced Rekognition in 2016 and began pitching it to law enforcement, The Associated Press reports.

Amazon said it would allow such organizations as the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children to continue using the technology. 

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Google AI Researcher Suggests Facial-Recognition Ban for Law Enforcement

Law enforcement’s use of facial recognition should be halted, said Timnit Gebru, a co-leader of Google’s ethical artificial intelligence technical team.

“It should be banned at the moment,” Gebru told The New York Times Wednesday, saying she now realized that “even perfect facial recognition can be misused.”

Gebru noted that her team’s analysis showed that the technology could be “way less accurate than humans” and has issues with “automation bias.”

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Zoom Closed Account of U.S.-based Chinese Activist to ‘Comply With Local Law’

Zoom Communications Inc. said Wednesday that it had closed the account of a group of prominent U.S.-based Chinese activists after they held a Zoom event commemorating the 31st anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre, according to Axios.

“Just like any global company, we must comply with applicable laws in the jurisdictions where we operate,” a spokesman for the U.S. video-conferencing company said in a statement.

“When a meeting is held across different countries, the participants within those countries are required to comply with their respective local laws.

“We aim to limit the actions we take to those necessary to comply with local law and continuously review and improve our process on these matters,” the spokesman said.

“We have reactivated the U.S.-based account.”

Zoom has faced growing scrutiny over security concerns and its ties to China, which forbids free discussion of the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement.

According to Axios, the May 31 event was organized by Zhou Fengsuo, founder of the U.S. nonprofit Humanitarian China and former student leader of the 1989 protests.

The event was held through a paid Zoom account associated with Humanitarian China, with about 250 people in attendance.

But on Sunday, the Zoom account displayed a message that it had been shut down, Axios said. Zhou told the site that he since had not been able to access the account and that Zoom had not responded to his emails.

“We are outraged by this act from Zoom, a U.S company,” Zhou and other organizers told Axios. “As the most commercially popular meeting software worldwide, Zoom is essential as an unbanned outreach to Chinese audiences remembering and commemorating the Tiananmen massacre during the coronavirus pandemic.”

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Privacy Advocates Raise Concerns About Police Body Cameras at Protests

Critics of police-worn cameras said that the devices at protests could be used as a surveillance tool against people exercising their rights to free speech.

Several major cities — including Seattle, Boston, New York and Minneapolis — have specific policies against police recording with body cameras at protests, CNET.com reports.

“On occasion, it reveals some of the problems, but the power dynamics are relatively unchanged,” said Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, author and law professor at the University of the District of Columbia. “The same tensions will exist with body cameras at protests.

“Who gets to control them?” he asked. “Who gets to see the footage?”

Protesters long have worried about surveillance of demonstrations, the latest version being police use of technology like facial recognition and social-media monitoring to identify people in crowds.

Using body cameras as surveillance tools threaten individual privacy and could have a chilling effect on free speech, advocates told CNET.

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— By DPN Staff