Three of the biggest AI vendors pledged to stop providing face recognition services to police — but other companies continue to serve the law-enforcement market.

What’s new: Amid protests over police killings of unarmed Black people in the U.S., Amazon imposed a one year moratorium on licensing its Rekognition technology to police departments, and Microsoft announced a similar hiatus. Both said they would re-enter the market if the government imposed limits on police use of the technology. IBM exited the face recognition market altogether.

Demand, meet supply: The big AI companies are highly visible, but most law enforcement agencies get the technology from lesser-known firms, the Wall Street Journal reported.

  • Clearview AI has 2,400 police customers in the U.S. and Canada.
  • NEC licenses face recognition to 20 law enforcement agencies.
  • Ayonix, iOmniscient, and Herta Security each serve a handful of U.S. law enforcement agencies.
  • The French company Idemia works with the New York Police Dept., the U.S. State Dept., and the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration as well as the European and Australian governments.

Why it matters: Concern over fairness in law enforcement has renewed worries that unfettered use of face recognition leads to miscarriages of justice. Research spearheaded by MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini showed that commercially available systems consistently misclassified women and people with darker complexions. A study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that Amazon’s system erroneously matched mugshots with the faces of 28 members of the U.S. Congress. Some police departments have misused the technology in ways that experts say could lead to mistaken arrests.

We’re thinking: It’s great to see the big AI providers exercising responsibility. Now we need prudent regulation and auditing mechanisms geared to protect civil rights and support social justice.


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