ACLU Comment on Amazon Shareholder Resolution Against Selling Facial Recognition to Government

January 17, 2019 11:00 am

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SEATTLE — A group of Amazon shareholders announced today that they have filed a shareholder resolution echoing widespread calls for Amazon to stop sales of facial recognition to the government. The shareholder resolution, which asks Amazon’s board of directors to prohibit sales of facial recognition technology to government agencies unless the board concludes that the technology does not pose actual or potential civil and human rights risk, is intended to be voted on at Amazon’s annual meeting in spring 2019.

Shankar Narayan, Technology and Liberty Project director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, issued the following comment in response:

“The fact that Amazon’s shareholders felt compelled to take this up to the company’s board of directors should be a wake-up call to Amazon’s leadership to take concerns around face surveillance seriously. It shouldn’t take a board or shareholder intervention for the company to do right by immigrants, people of color, religious minorities, protesters, and activists who are disproportionately harmed by such new surveillance technologies. We continue to urge Amazon to heed calls from civil, human, and immigrants’ rights groups, academics, lawmakers, and its own shareholders, employees and consumers to stop selling facial recognition technology to the government.”

The shareholder proposal comes days after 90 racial justice, faith, and civil, human, and immigrants’ rights groups sent coalition letters to Amazon, Microsoft, and Google demanding the companies commit not to sell face surveillance technology to the government. It also follows Google’s recent announcement that it will not sell a face surveillance product until the technology’s dangers are addressed and Microsoft acknowledging the grave risks of face surveillance. In contrast, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has suggested waiting for society’s eventual “immune response” to take care of the problems. Meanwhile, recent reports also revealed that Amazon met with ICE officials to discuss its face surveillance product.

The ACLU revealed last year that Amazon has been actively marketing its face surveillance technology to law enforcement and helping them deploy it. The ACLU also released results of a test showing that Rekognition falsely matched 28 current members of Congress with images in an arrest photo database. Congressional members of color were disproportionately identified incorrectly, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

A large group of Amazon shareholders and hundreds of Amazon employees wrote to Bezos and consumers signed over 150,000 petitions demanding the company stop providing face surveillance technology to governments. Dozens of members of Congress also wrote to Amazon with civil rights concerns and questions about the sale of Rekognition to law enforcement, and requested information from federal agencies about the use of this technology.

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