ACLU Comment on Letter from Top A.I. Experts Demanding Amazon Stop Selling Facial Recognition to Law Enforcement

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Today, 25 top A.I. researchers called on Amazon to stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement.

In response, Matt Cagle, Technology and Civil Liberties Attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, released the following statement:

This call by top A.I. experts adds a new and uniquely authoritative voice to the chorus of consumers, shareholders, policymakers, and civil rights organizations sounding the alarm about government use of face surveillance technology. Face surveillance gives governments unprecedented power to track, control, and harm all people, but especially communities of color, immigrants, religious minorities, and others long subject to surveillance abuse. Companies seeking to profit off this menacing technology cannot ignore and outsource responsibility for the harms of systems they build. They must stop selling face surveillance to governments entirely.

This letter comes months after a coalition of 90 racial justice, faith, civil, human, and immigrants’ rights groups sent letters to Amazon, Microsoft, and Google demanding that the companies commit to not sell face surveillance technology to the government. It also echoes the concerns of Amazon shareholders who filed a resolution asking Amazon's board of directors to prohibit sales of facial recognition technology to government agencies unless a board review concludes the technology does not pose a civil and human rights risk.

In December 2018, Google announced that it will not sell a face surveillance product until the technology’s dangers are addressed. In contrast, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has suggested waiting for society’s eventual “immune response” to take care of the problems, ignoring the severe and irreparable damage that this technology will have. Meanwhile, we also recently learned that Amazon met with ICE officials to discuss its face surveillance product. 

Last year, the ACLU released documents revealing that Amazon was aggressively 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.

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