AWS chief says facial recognition should be regulated

Andy Jassy says concerns over misuse of technologies like Amazon's Rekognition are valid.

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The chief of Amazon Web Services defended his company's use of facial recognition technology but said he believes it should be subject to government regulation.

Andy Jassy, the CEO of Amazon's cloud computing services, speaking Monday at the Code Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, acknowledged that concerns about technologies like its controversial Rekognition program are valid but maintained the technologies still have value.

"Just because technology could be misused doesn't mean we should ban it and condemn it," Jassy said, comparing it to how a knife could be used in a "surreptitious" manner. "All that said, I actually understand why people are worried about it. I think the government should regulate it."

Amazon's facial recognition software, dubbed Rekognition, has come under repeated criticism from privacy advocates in the past year. While facial recognition technology is commonly used for everyday tasks such as unlocking phones and tagging friends on social media, advances in artificial intelligence and the proliferation of cameras have made it increasingly easy to watch and track what individuals are doing.

Last year, the ACLU revealed that Amazon was selling its facial recognition technology, Rekognition, to law enforcement agencies in the US, including the Orlando Police Department. An ACLU test of Rekognition in July found that the system mistakenly confused 28 congressmen with known criminals.

Concerns about Rekognition also came up during public hearings before the New York City Council on Amazon's failed proposal to build a new campus in the city, with council members repeatedly chastising the company for marketing Rekognition to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Both Google and Microsoft have publicly said they won't sell their facial recognition tech to law enforcement, instead asking for new laws to guide their use.

"There are lots of ways to get an investigation wrong," Jassy said. "Just because you could get it wrong doesn't mean you should use it."

Jassy said there's strong backing within the company to continue support for government agencies and it intends to do so.

"Any government department that's following the law, we will serve," he said.