Amazon Is Quietly Fighting Against a Sweeping Facial Recognition Ban in Portland
‘They’re hoping that they can stop it, and they can’t’
Late last year, Amazon spent $12,000 lobbying against a new facial recognition law in Portland, Oregon. The proposed legislation would outright ban the use of the technology by government and private entities, and threaten a range of businesses that sell and use the technology in the city. (Public records show since this story was originally reported, Amazon spent an additional $12,000 on lobbying fees to contact and meet with Portland city council staff regarding its facial recognition ban, bringing its lobbying total as of September 2020 to $24,000.)
“[Amazon is] hoping that they can stop it, and they can’t,” Portland City Council Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, a champion of the proposal, told OneZero.
City public records archives indicate that this is the first time Amazon has lobbied in the city. The company is hoping to at least water down the legislation, which is poised to introduce some of the most aggressive controls on the technology in the United States.
Not only would the new legislation prevent the use of facial recognition by government agencies and law enforcement, it would stop private entities such as businesses from using the technology, too. And it would even outlaw city agencies from evaluating facial recognition tech, including systems made available for free.
The Best Reason for Your City to Ban Facial Recognition
The technology isn’t ready. Society isn’t ready. And the law isn’t ready.
“If they can’t stop it, they’re hoping to soften the language so that they can have more wiggle room,” Hardesty said. “And they also won’t be able to do that.”
A draft of the ordinance already makes certain exceptions for government use. For example, it would allow facial recognition to be used to unlock a phone, tag someone in social media, or to obscure faces in images and video. It remains unclear exactly how the ordinance would fully apply to private entities.