Amazon investors demand halt in AI surveillance system sales to governments

BY LEAH WILLIAMS
Posted on FEB 13, 2019

Investor petitions and letters against Rekognition are presented to Amazon's CEO following a congressional demand related to Alexa's conversation recordings.

An assembly of Amazon investors has petitioned the American electronic commerce and cloud company's CEO Jeff Bezos, requesting the discontinuance of Rekognition facial recognition system sales to governments.

The American Civil Liberties Union delivered a letter, joined by an online petition and a second letter signed by almost 70 US organizations voicing similar concerns.
Concerned organizations and shareholders signed the petition, demonstrating concerns with regards to methods in which the Rekognition tool could be used to automate widespread surveillance, in addition to the identification and tracking of citizens.

According to a testimonial page of customers on Amazon's website, Rekognition is used by at least one law enforcement agency, which includes the Washington County Sheriff Office in Oregon,

In a statement, the ACLU said, "Today's actions mark mounting pressure on Amazon to end its practice of selling its dragnet surveillance system, Rekognition, to local enforcement following the release of emails and other documents obtained by the ACLU revealing how the company has been pushing its face recognition product."

The investors' petition explains Rekognition "may not only pose a privacy threat to customers and other stakeholders across the country, but may also raise substantial risks for our company, negatively impacting our company's stock valuation and increasing financial risk for shareholders."

Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts' Technology for Liberty program Kade Crockford said, "We cannot blindly stumble into an artificial intelligence-powered surveillance state overseen by corporations interested in expanding their profit margins and police departments committed to exercising limitless power. True public safety - especially for people of color, Muslims, immigrants, and dissidents - requires that we stop the spread of face surveillance before it's too late.