Amazon has some explaining to do. The online retail giant has been caught providing facial recognition technology to law enforcement in Oregon and Orlando, according to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through a Freedom of Information Act Request. Emails obtained through the request show how Amazon has been advertising and selling its facial recognition product, Rekognition, for only a few dollars a month to law enforcement agencies -- in the hopes that they would encourage other agencies to sign up. The emails also show Amazon has marketed consulting services to law enforcement as well. SEE ALSO: What would an Amazon Alexa robot look like?
Faced with mounting criticism of its "Rekognition" system, Amazon has come out in favor of legislating facial recognition technology. In a blog post, the company has revealed its "proposed guidelines" for the responsible use of the tech that it hopes policymakers in the US and worldwide will consider when drafting new laws. Amazon's five-step rulebook essentially calls for use of the tech to be governed by current laws, including those that protect civil rights. It also urges human oversight when facial recognition is used by law enforcement and recommends a 99 percent confidence score threshold for identification, adding that the tech should not be the "sole determinant" in an investigation. It calls for law enforcement to release regular transparency reports on their use of the systems.
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's Rekognition facial surveillance technology has wrongly tagged 28 members of Congress as police suspects, the ACLU says. Amazon's Rekognition facial surveillance technology has wrongly tagged 28 members of Congress as police suspects, according to ACLU research, which notes that nearly 40 percent of the lawmakers identified by the system are people of color. In a blog post, Jacob Snow, technology and civil liberties attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, said that the false matches were made against a mugshot database. The matches were also disproportionately people of color, he said. These include six members of the Congressional Black Caucus, among them civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
Amazon's operation has grown well beyond merely delivering items to people's homes. Jeff Bezos's massive corporation is now involved in everything from grocery shopping to fashion, but the recent revelation that Amazon technology assists law enforcement is a bridge too far for some employees. A group of Amazon employees (referred to as Amazonians) penned a letter to Bezos on Thursday asking the billionaire CEO to halt the sale of facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies, The Hill reported. The software, called Amazon Web Services Rekognition, has been linked to government agencies like the controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. The letter cited the United States government's history of injustice towards minorities in calling for Amazon to stop assisting ICE.