Shareholders, ACLU urge Amazon to stop selling facial recognition software to police ahead of event at tech giant’s HQ

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ACLU has planned a press conference at the Amazon Spheres urging the company to stop providing police with facial-recognition technology.
(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amazon is taking more heat for selling its facial recognition software to local law enforcement agencies.

The American Civil Liberties Union is holding a press conference at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters Monday afternoon where the group will deliver a petition with more than 150,000 signatures asking Amazon to stop the practice. The event comes a few days after nearly 20 groups of Amazon shareholders sent a letter asking the company to stop providing police with its Rekognition software.

Amazon first introduced its image recognition service in 2016 and enhanced to handle video recognition last year at AWS re:Invent 2017. The company says Rekognition “provides highly accurate facial analysis and facial recognition” but the ACLU claims the software is biased against people of color. Amazon lists the Washington County Sheriff Office as one of its customers on the Rekognition website.

“Facial recognition technology is biased, misidentifying African Americans and relying on databases built on a history of discrimination in our criminal justice system,” the ACLU said in a statement. “The company has developed and marketed the surveillance system to law enforcement without public transparency or accountability.”

Amazon could not immediately be reached for comment but one of the company’s AI executives, Matt Wood, did share some thoughts about the controversy when the ACLU first raised issues with Rekognition a few weeks ago.

“There has been no reported law enforcement abuse of Amazon Rekognition,” he said in a blog post. Wood later added, “There have always been and will always be risks with new technology capabilities. Each organization choosing to employ technology must act responsibly or risk legal penalties and public condemnation.”

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