Amazon shareholders protest Rekognition for police
Pointing to data privacy and constitutional concerns
Posted on June 19, 2018 12:32 AM.
Nearly 20 groups of Amazon shareholders are pressuring the tech company to stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement. In a letter delivered to CEO Jeff Bezos late Friday, the shareholders, many of whom are advocates of socially responsible investing, say they're concerned about the privacy threat of government surveillance from the tool.
The move comes in the wake of ACLU’s investigation that found that Amazon has been pitching its facial recognition technology Rekognition to law enforcement agencies to surveil citizens.
In some places, Rekognition is already being used to identify suspects, or even witnesses. In Oregon, police trained Rekognition on 300,000 photos of arrest photos in an effort to find a match among surveillance photos.
In May, the ACLU released troubling internal documents, including an email from a Washington County official telling Amazon they were using Rekognition to identify “unconscious or deceased individuals” as well as “possible witnesses. [One] document showed the software identifying a photo of O.J. Simpson as a 93.53 percent match with a white arrestee.
The bulk of the controversy stems from research showing that facial recognition systems are susceptible to bias. A 2011 study found that systems developed in China, Japan, and South Korea had more trouble distinguishing between Caucasian faces than East Asians, and a separate study showed that algorithms from security vendor Cognitec performed 5 to 10 percent worse on African Americans than on Caucasians.
The Congressional Black Caucus wrote a letter to Bezos, detailing their concerns surrounding unconsitituional policing practices, and Rekognition's role in leading to misidentification and wrongful arrests.
The message sent to Amazon today by its shareholders, more than 150,000 consumers, and a nationwide coalition is loud and clear: If Amazon is indeed a customer-centric company that opposes secret government surveillance, it needs to stop selling dangerous face surveillance to the government that can be used to attack protesters, target immigrants, and spy on neighborhoods.
The privacy concerns are obvious, but Amazon says it's not just a tool for facial recognition, it's a tool recognize anything. If you train it on hundreds of thousands of chairs, it will be able to identify a chair. Countries like China are already implementing similar technology, aiding in arresting suspects for crimes. Amazon hasn't commented directly on on the letter yet, but they did say they take steps to ensure acceptable and responsible use of their technology.
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