Amazon under more pressure on biometric bodycams
18 June 2018 17:23 GMT

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.

Amazon's technology, called Rekognition and introduced in 2016, detects objects and faces in images and videos. Customers, which include law enforcement in Orlando, Florida and Washington County, Oregon, can upload face databases to automatically identify individuals.

In one case, the Washington County sheriff's office identified persons of interest, including a shoplifter caught on a hardware store's cameras. The store camera's image was automatically compared with thousands of photos of individuals processed while entering jail. This speeds up a process that used to rely on manual labor and the memory of police officers to identify people.

The shareholders, which include the Social Equity Group and Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, are joining groups such as the ACLU in efforts to stop the company from selling the service — pointing out the risks of mass surveillance.

They warn about potential civil and human rights violations, and how Amazon's involvement could have a negative impact on the company's stock. The shareholders point to the recent scrutiny of Facebook (FB) over privacy and data as a cautionary tale.

"We are concerned the technology would be used to unfairly and disproportionately target and surveil people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations," the shareholders write. "We are concerned sales may be expanded to foreign governments, including authoritarian regimes."

In a blog post earlier this month, Matt Wood, a general manager of artificial intelligence at Amazon Web Services, said Amazon's policy prohibits the use of its service for activities that are illegal, violate the rights of others, or may be harmful.

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