Thanks to Amazon, the government will soon be able to track your face

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
July 6, 2018

Amazon, the company synonymous with online shopping, is supplying facial recognition technology to government and law enforcement agencies over its web services platform. Branded Rekognition, the technology is every bit as dystopian as it sounds.

Given the enormous reach of Amazon’s cloud platform and how easily organizations can integrate new applications into their operations, it’s disturbing that the company can offer a powerful platform-based surveillance technology without any public input, oversight or regulation. Amazon should not have free rein to develop and profit from new surveillance technologies without regard for their effects on civil liberties and human rights. Acquiescing to the technological and economic imperatives of these companies places our democracy on precarious footing.

A coalition of civil liberties and human rights organizations have sounded the alarm, including the American Civil Liberties Union. They are asking Amazon to stop supplying its facial recognition technology to government and law enforcement agencies. Amazon shareholders and Amazon workers have joined them, voicing opposition to the company’s involvement in the business of government and police surveillance. Because of the privacy and related concerns, momentum is building.

The city of Orlando dropped its pilot program use of Rekognition. Brian Brakeen, CEO of the facial recognition company Kairos, took a stand and said his company wouldn’t sell the technology to the government. “In the hands of government surveillance programs and law enforcement agencies,” Brakeen writes, “there’s simply no way that face recognition software will be not used to harm citizens.” 

As academics who have studied information technologies and privacy, including the social implications of face recognition and biometrics, we share these reservations. We are calling on Amazon to get out of the surveillance business. Our demand is as strong as it is urgent and sensible.

We don’t want Amazon to merely adjust the functions of its facial recognition technology or update its policies for proper use. The only responsible course of action involves Amazon doing a complete about-face. It must stop building the facial recognition infrastructure for law enforcement agencies and the government and be committed to never return to the business in the future.

Read the full piece at The Guardian