December 13, 2018

BANGKOK, Thailand — Google today made it clear that it has not, and will not, sell a facial recognition surveillance product until the technology’s dangers are addressed, citing its susceptibility to abuse.

Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, issued the following comment in response:

“This is a strong first step. Google today demonstrated that, unlike other companies doubling down on efforts to put dangerous face surveillance technology into the hands of law enforcement and ICE, it has a moral compass and is willing to take action to protect its customers and communities. Google also made clear that all companies must stop ignoring the grave harms these surveillance technologies pose to immigrants and people of color, and to our freedom to live our lives, visit a church, or participate in a protest without being tracked by the government.

“We will continue to put Google's feet to the fire to make sure it doesn't build or sell a face surveillance product that violates civil and human rights. We also renew our call on Amazon and Microsoft to not provide dangerous face surveillance to the government. Companies have a responsibility to make sure their products can’t be used to attack communities and harm civil rights and liberties — it’s past time all companies own up to that responsibility.”

Google’s announcement comes after the ACLU, joined by a coalition of 70 civil rights and civil liberties organizations, as well as employees, consumers, and members of Congress, raised concerns about government use of face recognition technology. Google’s announcement also coincides with sustained activism from workers demanding that the company stand up for the vulnerable, place human rights on the same footing with shareholder interests, and refuse to “outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties.”

“This announcement is also a victory for Google’s employees, who advocated for the Artificial Intelligence Principles that guided the company’s commitment today,” added Ozer.

This news comes a day after Amazon told the New York City Council, when asked about its relationship with ICE, that it provides Rekognition, its facial recognition product, to a variety of government agencies. Recently, members of Congress also expressed frustration over Amazon’s failure to answer their questions about its facial recognition technology and relationship with ICE.

“ICE should not be using facial recognition for immigration enforcement,” said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU senior legislative counsel. “Members of Congress should not rest until they get clear answers about who Amazon is selling and marketing this technology to, how it can be used, and what bias testing has been performed.”

Earlier reports revealed Amazon met with ICE officials earlier this year to market its face surveillance product.

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