ACLU demands Amazon stop selling facial recognition technology to police

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is demanding that Amazon stop selling facial recognition technology to the government after the rights group obtained documents showing how the technology giant is marketing the product to law enforcement.

The ACLU and a coalition of rights groups on Tuesday sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos warning of the threat that such surveillance technology poses in the hands of police.

“Amazon Rekognition is primed for abuse in the hands of governments,” the letter reads. “This product poses a grave threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build.”


Using public records requests, ACLU’s California chapter obtained more than a hundred pages of documents showing Amazon’s work with law enforcement agencies in Orlando, Fla., and Oregon to deploy the technology, which Amazon calls “Rekognition.”

The documents show that authorities seemed to be paying very little for Amazon’s services. An invoice included among the documents shows that the e-commerce giant was charging the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon just $343.95. A spokesperson for the county told The Washington Post that it pays Amazon between $6 and $12 a month for Rekognition.

A spokesperson for Amazon Web Services (AWS) told The Hill that Rekognition is not a tool for surveillance, saying that it is merely used to match images from pictures or video with those in a database. The spokesperson said the technology has been used to find abducted people and lost children.

“Amazon requires that customers comply with the law and be responsible when they use AWS services. When we find that AWS services are being abused by a customer, we suspend that customer’s right to use our services,” the spokesperson said.

“Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology,” the spokesperson added. “Imagine if customers couldn’t buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?”

In the letter to Bezos, the ACLU argued that Rekognition could be improperly used by law enforcement authorities to target and track minorities, immigrants and political protesters. The letter was also signed by other groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Human Rights Watch and the Center for Media Justice.

“We know that putting this technology into the hands of already brutal and unaccountable law enforcement agencies places both democracy and dissidence at great risk,” Malkia Cyril, the executive director of the Center for Media Justice, said in a statement.

“Amazon should never be in the business of aiding and abetting racial discrimination and xenophobia — but that’s exactly what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is doing when he sells these loosely regulated facial recognition tools to local police departments.”

–Updated at 1:20 p.m.

Tags Amazon facial recognition technology Government Law enforcement Privacy Surveillance

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