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Community leaders asked Amazon to stop selling Rekognition to police at the company’s Seattle headquarters last June. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Amazon is taking an active role advising lawmakers on legislation that would govern facial recognition technology, like the Seattle tech company’s own Rekognition software.

Over the past few months, Amazon has been meeting with policymakers to “understand how to best balance the benefits of facial recognition with the potential risks,” according to Michael Punke, vice president of global public policy for Amazon Web Services.

Punke published a blog post Thursday with guidelines for legislators who are drafting bills to rein in the controversial technology. Amazon is supporting a national facial recognition law, though some local jurisdictions are eager to take the matter into their own hands.

Where the law stands: There are no federal laws specifically governing facial recognition but some states do have laws against using technology to identify people without consent. As scrutiny of facial recognition ramps up, lawmakers in progressive tech hubs are considering more explicit rules. A privacy bill working its way through the Washington state legislature would put new regulations on companies developing facial recognition software, like the state’s homegrown tech giants Amazon and Microsoft. A San Francisco official has proposed banning the technology altogether.

Amazon’s wishlist: Punke outlined six recommendations for policymakers writing facial recognition laws. They are:

  1. All use of facial recognition should comply with existing laws and civil rights.
  2. In law enforcement, humans should always review facial recognition findings to avoid civil rights violations.
  3. Law enforcement agencies relying on facial recognition for identification should use a 99 percent confidence score, “a measure of how much trust a facial recognition system places in its own results,” according to Wood.
  4. Law enforcement agencies should publish regular transparency reports about their use of facial recognition technology.
  5. People should be notified when facial recognition is used in public or commercial spaces.
  6. There should be standardized methods to test accuracy and bias in facial recognition technology.

Why it matters: Amazon is playing defense as civil rights activists and lawmakers sound the alarm over facial recognition technology. The ACLU and MIT have conducted tests that reveal facial recognition can amplify human biases and disproportionately target people of color. Amazon disputes the findings of both studies.

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