Amazon Grants Authoritarian Facial Recognition Technology to Police

Another reminder that Amazon doesn’t care about its harmful effects on communities. Its CEO is the world’s richest person, yet its workers often work in horrible conditions for pay that’s low enough to make them request food stamps in order to survive. And in terms of the facial recognition technology, it increases repression in communities by allowing police to increase their targeting of vulnerable minority groups.

After internal emails (pdf) published by the ACLU on Tuesday revealed that Amazon has been aggressively selling its facial recognition product to law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S., privacy advocates and civil libertarians raised grave concerns that the retailer is effectively handing out a “user manual for authoritarian surveillance” that could be deployed by governments to track protesters, spy on immigrants and minorities, and crush dissent.

“We know that putting this technology into the hands of already brutal and unaccountable law enforcement agencies places both democracy and dissidence at great risk,” Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, said in a statement in response to the ACLU’s findings. “Amazon should never be in the business of aiding and abetting racial discrimination and xenophobia—but that’s exactly what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is doing.”

First unveiled in 2016, “Rekognition” was explicitly marketed by Amazon as a tool for “tracking people,” and it has already been put to use by law enforcement agencies in Florida and Oregon.

While Amazon suggests in its marketing materials that Rekognition can be used to track down “people of interest” in criminal cases, ACLU and dozens of pro-privacy groups argued in a letter (pdf) to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Tuesday that the product is “primed for abuse in the hands of governments” and poses a “grave threat” to marginalized groups and dissidents.

Highlighting “the possibility that those labeled suspicious by governments—such as undocumented immigrants or black activists—will be targeted for Rekognition surveillance,” the coalition of advocacy groups urged Amazon to “act swiftly to stand up for civil rights and civil liberties, including those of its own customers, and take Rekognition off the table for governments.”

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” the groups concluded. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it.”

The ACLU investigation found that Amazon has not been content to simply market and sell Rekognition to law enforcement agencies—it is also offering “company resources to help government agencies deploy” the tool.

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