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Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM Will Temporarily Stop Selling Facial Recognition Technology to Law Enforcement

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  • After increased calls for tech companies to stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement, Amazon pledged to stop for one year.
  • Microsoft promised to stop until there is federal legislation, and IBM said it will stop entirely.
  • Numerous studies have found that facial recognition programs disproportionately misidentify people of color, which could lead to false arrests. Others are concerned police are using the technology to identify and arrest protestors, as they have in the past.
  • Facial recognition is entirely unregulated at the federal level, and all three companies pushed for national legislation.

The Problem With Facial Recognition

IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft have all said they will stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement— at least temporarily.

Over the last few years, government agencies and law enforcement have significantly increased their use of facial recognition technology, which is almost entirely unregulated, to track down criminals, terrorists, and illegal immigrants.

One 2016 study by the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law that combined FBI data with information about state and local systems found that facial recognition systems used by law enforcement impacts over 117 million American adults, meaning that “one in two American adults is in a law enforcement face recognition network.”

While the use of facial recognition is something that both activists and privacy advocates have criticized for years, the recent protests and calls for changes in policing have placed renewed pressure on tech companies to stop selling these tools to law enforcement agencies.

There are two overarching arguments made by those who oppose the use of facial recognition by law enforcement.

The first is the argument that the law enforcement system is structurally racist, and any policing tool utilized by that system will undoubtedly be used to target Black and brown people— as all policing tools are.

The second argument is that numerous studies have found that the existing facial recognition technology is far more likely to misidentify women and people of color, which means the systems will lead to more wrongful arrests if used by police. 

The reason for this fundamental flaw is due to the fact that the data used to build the facial recognition software are often largely made up of pictures of white men, which makes racial bias ingrained in the systems.

For example, one federal report released at the end of last year found that Asian and Black individuals were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified by facial recognition software than white men.

When it comes to the protests, there are also very serious concerns that facial recognition is being used to identify Black Lives Matter protestors— which is something they have done before.

During the protests over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man who died in the custody of police in Baltimore in 2015, the Baltimore Police Department used facial recognition technology to identify protestors, try to link them up with their social media profiles, and then target them for arrest.

What Are They Doing Now?

But despite all of that, tech companies continued to sell facial recognition technology to the police and other law enforcement agencies for years, which is why these decisions by some of the three largest tech companies in the world are significant.

IBM was the first to make its announcement last Monday, and also made the most permanent commitment.

“IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software,” CEO Arvind Krishna wrote in a letter to members of Congress. “IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms.”

Two days later Amazon announced in a statement that it was: “implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of Amazon’s facial recognition technology.”

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

Amazon’s commitment here is especially notable because the company’s facial recognition technology has been arguable the most heavily criticized of the three. 

A 2018 test conducted by the ACLU found that Amazon’s software incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress with mugshots of people who had committed crimes. In 2019, one study found that Amazon’s system had more difficulty identifying women and darker-skinned faces than IBM and Microsoft’s technology.

As for Microsoft, their announcement was made by the company’s president, Brad Smith, in an interview with the Washington Post on Thursday.

“We will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology,” Smith said, noting that Microsoft has not sold the technology to police departments in the past.

Where the Plans Fall Short

While many have applauded the moves these three companies made, others have noted that there are a lot of places where their plans fall short.

For example, while Microsoft and Amazon have not said if they will stop selling the technology to other government agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Amazon has also faced extra scrutiny over its decision to limit selling their products to the police to just one year, as many have pointed out that it is unlikely we will have comprehensive national legislation by then.

Others have also noted that Amazon has not said what will happen to the police departments its already sold their facial recognition system to, which is significant because, in February, the head of Amazon Web Services said that the company doesn’t know how many police forces had bought their technology.

Even beyond that, numerous activists have called for the technology to be banned at the federal level, full stop. But regardless of a full ban or just more regulation, it is clear that these three companies believe that there needs to be a framework at the national level.

Especially because, as Smith pointed out, smaller companies will likely rush in and fill the space that these big companies are leaving by stepping out of the law-enforcement market— even if just temporarily.

“If all of the responsible companies in the country cede this market to those that are not prepared to take a stand, we won’t necessarily serve the national interest or the lives of the Black and African-American people of this nation well,” he said. “We need Congress to act, not just tech companies alone.”

But whether or not that will happen anytime soon remains unclear. According to reports, right now there are at least a dozen bills in Congress that address facial recognition either directly or indirectly as part of a larger proposal, though most have bee deprioritized.

There have been a number of efforts at the state and local level, but even those are up in the air, and without a holistic, national framework, not a lot can be expected to change.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (CNN) (The Washington Post)

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Manhattan City Council Candidate Says He’s “Not Ashamed” After BDSM Video Leaks Online

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While many applauded the candidate’s response, others suspect the entire ordeal may have been manufactured for publicity.


BDSM Video Leaks

Zack Weiner, a 26-year-old candidate for Manhattan’s City Council, has caught a flood of attention in recent days after responding to a BDSM video of himself that leaked online.

According to the New York Post, which first reported on the leak Saturday, the video was published by an anonymous Twitter account earlier this month.

“My magnificent domme friend played with Upper West Side city council candidate Zack Weiner and I’m the only one who has the footage,” the tweet reportedly read.

The video was flagged to the Post by Weiner’s campaign manager, Joe Gallagher, the news outlet said. The tabloid also claimed it showed Weiner gagged while “subjecting himself to various abuses by a leather-bound woman who pours wax on him and clips his nipples with clothespins.”

The footage was filmed at Parthenon studio in Midtown, which the Post described as known for its high-quality BDSM dungeons, and Weiner actually confirmed the video’s authenticity to the outlet, saying it was filmed at that location in 2019 with a former girlfriend that he met during a Halloween party.

Weiner Says He’s “Not Ashamed”

Weiner took to Twitter on Saturday to address the private video head on.

“Whoops. I didn’t want anyone to see that, but here we are,” he wrote.

“I am not ashamed of the private video circulating of me on Twitter. This was a recreational activity that I did with my friend at the time, for fun. Like many young people, I have grown into a world where some of our most private moments have been documented online.”

“While a few loud voices on Twitter might chastise me for the video, most people see the video for what it is: a distraction. I trust that voters will choose a city council representative based on their policies and their ability to best serve the community,” he continued.

In his comments to the Post, he added, “I am a proud BDSMer. I like BDSM activity.” He also said he had no idea how the footage surfaced, saying “It’s definitely a violation of trust.”

Praise and Suspicions

Many people online have applauded Weiner for refusing to apologize for private consensual acts. One, for example, tweeted, “Yeah – as long as this was between 2 (or more) consenting adults – I don’t care one bit. If this info ALONE would cause you to vote for somebody else, then I am FAR MORE worried about YOUR participation in Government than his!”

In fact, many have said they would vote for him after learning of the video and slammed critics, as well as the tabloid, for “kink-shaming.”

It’s worth noting that the Post’s article described Weiner as someone who “has mostly been a nonentity in the race for the Upper West Side’s 6th District.” It pointed to the fact that he has no endorsements and that his campaign barely raised $10,000 — most of which allegedly came from himself and his campaign manager.

Because of this, along with Gallagher’s contact with the Post, some have speculated that the entire ordeal may have been some kind of stunt manufactured for publicity.

See what others are saying: (New York Post) (Insider) (HITC)

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Supreme Court Rejects Third Challenge to Affordable Care Act

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In the 7-2 decision, the justices argued the Republican-led states that brought the challenge forth failed to show how the law caused injury and thus had no legal standing.


SCOTUS Issues Opinion on Individual Mandate

The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the third Republican-led challenge to the Affordable Care Act to ever reach the high court.

The issue at hand was the provision of the law, commonly known as Obamacare, that requires people to either purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty: the so-called individual mandate. 

The individual mandate has been one of the most controversial parts of Obamacare and it has already been before SCOTUS, which upheld the provision in 2012 on the grounds that it amounted to a tax and thus fell under Congress’ taxing power.

However, as part of the sweeping 2017 tax bill, the Republican-held Congress set the penalty for not having health care to $0. As a result, a group of Republican-led states headed by Texas sued, arguing that because their GOP colleagues made the mandate zero dollars, it no longer raised revenues and could not be considered a tax, thus making it unconstitutional.

The states also argued that the individual mandate is such a key part of Obamacare that it could not be separated without getting rid of the entire law.

The Supreme Court, however, rejected that argument in a 7-2 decision, with Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissenting.

Majority Opinion Finds No Injury

In the majority decision, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the Republican states had no grounds to sue because they could not show how they were harmed by their own colleagues zeroing out the penalty.

“There is no possible government action that is causally connected to the plaintiffs’ injury — the costs of purchasing health insurance,” he wrote, adding that the states “have not demonstrated that an unenforceable mandate will cause their residents to enroll in valuable benefits programs that they would otherwise forgo.”

Breyer also argued that because of this, the court did not need to decide on the broader issue of whether the 2017 tax bill rendered the individual mandate unconstitutional and if that provision could be separated from the ACA.

The highly anticipated decision will officially keep Obamacare as the law of the land, ensuring that the roughly 20 million people enrolled still have health insurance. While there may be other challenges to the law hard-fought by conservatives, this latest ruling sends a key signal about the limits of the Republican efforts to achieve their agenda through the high court, even with the strong conservative majority.

While the court has now struck down challenges to Obamacare three times, Thursday’s decision marked the largest margin of victory of all three challenges to the ACA.

For now, the ACA appears to be fairly insulated from legal challenges, though it will still likely face more. In a tweet following the SCOTUS decision, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) vowed to keep fighting Obamacare, adding that the individual mandate “was unconstitutional when it was enacted and it is still unconstitutional.”

See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press

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Utah Student With Down Syndrome Left Out of Cheer Squad’s Yearbook Photo

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The move marks the second time in three years that Morgyn Arnold has been left out of the school’s yearbook. Two years ago, it failed to include her in the class list.


Two Photos Take, One Without Morgyn Arnold

A Utah school has apologized after a student with Down syndrome at Shoreline Junior High was excluded from her cheerleading squad’s yearbook photo.

The squad took two official team portraits this year. The first included 14-year-old Morgyn Arnold, who had been working as the team manager but attended practices and cheered alongside her other teammates at every home game. The second imsgr did not include her and ended up being the photo the school used across social media and in its yearbook.

Arnold was heartbroken by the decision and her family believed it was made because of her disability.

In social media posts about the move, Arnold’s sister, Jordyn Poll, noted that Arnold “spent hours learning dances, showing up to games, and cheering on her school and friends but was left out.”

“I hope that no one ever has to experience the heartbreak that comes when the person they love comes home from school devastated and shows them that they’re not in the picture with their team,” she continued.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Poll also said this marked the second time in three years that her sister has been left out of the yearbook. Two years ago, the school failed to include her in the class list.

School Apologizes After Backlash

After Poll’s public call out picked up attention, the school said it was “deeply saddened by the mistake.”

Apologies have been made to the family, and we sincerely apologize to all others impacted by this error,” it added. “We are continuing to look at what has occurred, and to improve our practice.”

The district issued a similar statement, claiming it was looking into why this occurred to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

But Poll said this isn’t the same response her family received when they initially contacted school administrators. Instead, Poll told the Tribune that an employee at the school “blatantly said they didn’t know what we were expecting of them and there was nothing they could do.”

The school has since contacted them again “to make the situation right.”

Meanwhile, Poll stressed that her sister’s teammates had nothing to do with the decision, defending the girls as amazing friends who have done everything to make Arnold feel included.

In fact, they too were disappointed to see that she was not featured in the image or even named as a member of the team in the yearbook.

Arnold’s family decided to speak up about the issue so that this school and others can improve the ways they interact with and include students with disabilities. Different forms of exclusion happen at schools across the country, and this story has prompted other parents of kids with disabilities to share similar experiences.

A staff attorney at the Disability Law Center of Utah told the Tribune that it receives about 4,000 complaints each year. Some complaints stemmed from students with disabilities being separated into other classrooms without their peers. Others include name-calling or not allowing students on a team or in a club.

Thankfully, Arnold has not let this situation bring her down. According to her family, she has already forgiven everyone involved and plans to continue cheering alongside her friends.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Salt Lake Tribune) (NBC News)

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