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?
In the aftermath of the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, over the killing of Michael Brown, police departments and policy makers around the country hit upon a supposed panacea to racist policing and police brutality: body-worn cameras. Many hailed the move as a victory for accountability. But among the few dissenters was Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice and a leader in the Black Lives Matter network, who warned early and often that the cameras could become tools of surveillance against people of color because "body-worn cameras don't watch the police, they watch the community being policed, people like me". The scope and scale of that surveillance became clearer Tuesday, when the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California released a collection of public records detailing how Amazon has been marketing and selling facial recognition software, called Amazon Rekognition, to law enforcement agencies. Amazon marketing materials promoted the idea of using Rekognition in conjunction with police body cameras in real time – exactly the outcome Cyril feared.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, announces that his company will draft its own set of laws to regulate the use of facial recognition. The best way to have the law on your side is to create it. Maybe that's what Jeff Bezos thought. As part of the annual event dedicated to its virtual assistant Alexa, Amazon's CEO has just announced that his company will develop a set of laws to regulate facial recognition technology. This draft legislation will then be proposed to U.S. federal legislators.
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 may not have much choice but to address mounting criticism over its sales of facial recognition tech to governments. The American Civil Liberties Union has delivered both a petition and a letter from 17 investors demanding that Amazon drop its Rekognition system and exit the surveillance business. While the two sides have somewhat different motivations, they share one thing in common: a concern for privacy. Both groups are worried that Amazon is handing governments surveillance power they could easily use to violate civil rights, particularly for minorities and immigrants. They could use it to track and intimidate protesters, for instance.