Amazon investors are turning up the heat on CEO Jeff Bezos with a new letter demanding he stop selling the company's controversial facial recognition technology to police. The shareholder proposal calls for Amazon to stop offering the product, called Rekognition, to government agencies until it undergoes a civil and human rights review. It follow similar criticisms voiced by 450 Amazon employees, as well as civil liberties groups and members of Congress, over the past several months. 'Rekognition contradicts Amazon's opposition to facilitating surveillance,' the letter states. '...Shareholders have little evidence our company is effectively restricting the use of Rekognition to protect privacy and civil rights.
A top Google executive recently sent a shot across the bow of its competitors regarding face surveillance. Kent Walker, the company's general counsel and senior vice president of global affairs, made it clear that Google -- unlike Amazon and Microsoft -- will not sell a face recognition product until the technology's potential for abuse is addressed. Face recognition, powered by artificial intelligence, could allow the government to supercharge surveillance by automating identification and tracking. Authorities could use it to track protesters, target vulnerable communities (such as immigrants), and create digital policing in communities of color that are already subject to pervasive police monitoring. So how are the world's biggest technology companies responding to this serious threat to privacy, safety and civil rights?
Employees at Amazon.com are calling on chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos to end the sale of facial-recognition technology to law enforcement agencies and to discontinue partnerships with companies that work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In a letter, a group of Amazon workers said they are also troubled by a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union revealing the company's sale and marketing of Rekognition, its facial-recognition technology, to police departments and government agencies. Workers at Amazon are protesting the recently halted Trump administration policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. "We don't have to wait to find out how these technologies will be used. We already know that in the midst of historic militarization of police, renewed targeting of Black activists, and the growth of a federal deportation force currently engaged in human rights abuses -- this will be another powerful tool for the surveillance state, and ultimately serve to harm the most marginalized," the letter states.
Amazon is drawing the ire of its shareholders after an investigation found that it has been marketing powerful facial recognition tools to police. Nearly 20 groups of Amazon shareholders delivered a signed letter to CEO Jeff Bezos on Friday, pressuring the company to stop selling the software to law enforcement. The tool, called'Rekognition', was first released in 2016, but has since been selling it on the cheap to several police departments around the country, with Washington County Sheriff's Office in Oregon and the city of Orlando, Florida among its customers. Shareholders, including the Social Equity Group and Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, join the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other privacy advocates in pointing out privacy violations and the dangers of mass surveillance. 'We are concerned the technology would be used to unfairly and disproportionately target and surveil people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations,' the shareholders write.
Amazon has been essentially giving away facial recognition tools to law enforcement agencies in Oregon and Orlando, according to documents obtained by American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, paving the way for a rollout of technology that is causing concern among civil rights groups. Amazon is providing the technology, known as Rekognition, as well as consulting services, according to the documents, which the ACLU obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. A coalition of civil rights groups, in a letter released Tuesday, called on Amazon to stop selling the program to law enforcement because it could lead to the expansion of surveillance of vulnerable communities. "We demand that Amazon stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country," the groups wrote in the letter. Amazon spokeswoman Nina Lindsey did not directly address the concerns of civil rights groups.