June 10, 2020

SEATTLE — Amazon today announced a one-year moratorium on its sale of face recognition technology to law enforcement. The American Civil Liberties Union two years ago revealed that the company is secretly selling this technology to police, and has since led a coalition effort calling on the company to stop fueling police abuses and civil rights violations with the sale of this technology to law enforcement.

Below is comment from Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, in response to this news:

"It took two years for Amazon to get to this point, but we’re glad the company is finally recognizing the dangers face recognition poses to Black and Brown communities and civil rights more broadly. 

“This surveillance technology’s threat to our civil rights and civil liberties will not disappear in a year. Amazon must fully commit to a blanket moratorium on law enforcement use of face recognition until the dangers can be fully addressed, and it must press Congress and legislatures across the country to do the same. They should also commit to stop selling surveillance systems like Ring that fuel the over-policing of communities of color. 

“Face recognition technology gives governments the unprecedented power to spy on us wherever we go. It fuels police abuse. This surveillance technology must be stopped.

“We urge Microsoft and other companies to join IBM, Google, and Amazon in moving towards the right side of history.”

In May of 2018, the ACLU released the results of an investigation showing that Amazon was selling face surveillance technology to law enforcement. Then, in a test the ACLU conducted in July 2018 simulating how law enforcement were using the technology in the field, Amazon’s Rekognition software incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress, identifying them as other people who have been arrested for a crime. The false matches were disproportionately of people of color, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Numerous academic studies prior to that have found demographic differences in the accuracy of facial recognition technology. 

Members of Congress raised the alarm with Amazon and numerous government agencies over the civil rights implications of facial recognition technology.

The ACLU is also leading a nationwide movement to ensure individuals — not private entities or government agencies — get to decide if and how surveillance technologies are used in their communities. Already, as part of ACLU-led campaigns, multiple towns and cities, including San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, California, and Springfield and Cambridge, Massachusetts, have adopted model ACLU legislation banning the government’s use of face recognition. Following another ACLU-led coalition effort, the state of California blocked use of the technology on police body cams.

The ACLU is also calling for changes to the Justice in Policing Act, introduced by the U.S. House of Representatives in the wake of the George Floyd protest and which will be considered next week, to prohibit face recognition from being used in conjunction with body worn cameras.

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