Open Letter to Amazon against Police and Government use of Rekognition

Researchers in Support of Amazon Employees: Amazon should not sell Face Rekognition Technologies to Police, Government or Intermediaries.

An Open Letter to:

Jeffrey Bezos, Founder and CEO of Inc.
Hassan Sawaf, Director of Artificial Intelligence, Amazon Web Services (AWS)
Dr. Matt Wood, General Manager of Artificial Intelligence, Amazon Web Services (AWS)

As academics who study, teach about, and develop information technologies, we write in solidarity with Amazon workers and shareholders, as well as a coalition of over 70 civil and human rights groups, who are urging Amazon to cease sale of its Rekognition facial recognition technology to police departments and government agencies. We also support the workers’ demand to cease providing AWS cloud services to intermediary companies such as Palantir that develop AI technologies for police departments and militaries, and their refusal to provide services to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) service, and refusal to design tools that facilitate human rights violations, such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) database of biometric data.

As two of the authors of this letter have forcefully argued, face recognition technology represents an unprecedented threat to privacy and civil liberties that even the best traditional forms of regulation will almost certainly fail to mitigate. Amazon has an obligation to consider the privacy harms, and threats to civil and human rights, from the infrastructure of cameras, face databases, and biometric data its products are creating.

Recent studies of facial recognition systems deployed in the United Kingdom have shown unacceptably low levels of accuracy. However, even a highly accurate, ubiquitous identification and tracking system itself poses a grave threat to society—a matter on which there is bipartisan agreement even in this sharply divided political climate. Brian Brakeen, CEO of the facial recognition company Kairos, has acknowledged that their own technology presents such serious privacy concerns that they will not sell it to governments, while the City of Orlando, Florida has dropped its use of Rekognition following the expression of privacy concerns.

Amazon’s insistence that there has been “no reported law enforcement abuse of Amazon Rekognition” is a woefully insufficient response. Just as Amazon sees no evidence of abuse of Rekognition by law enforcement, we see no evidence of a sufficient reporting system for such abuse. Nor does there appear to be any established system for documenting, let alone preventing, the use of Rekognition for illegal discrimination, or in violation of human, civil or privacy rights. Indeed, this technology would amplify existing forms of implicit bias against vulnerable minorities, and enable even more powerful forms of explicit discrimination and oppression.

It is incumbent upon powerful companies like Amazon to sharply restrict the sale of products such as Rekognition, while they work to ensure greater transparency and accountability in the development and deployment their technologies.

We thus call upon Amazon to:

  • Stop supplying government and law enforcement agencies with facial recognition technology.
  • Cancel its cloud services contracts with Palantir and other intermediary companies that provide data analytics and AI services to police or militaries.
  • Establish ethical guidelines that prohibit the weaponization and militarization of this and other technologies that threaten privacy, civil and human rights, and establish transparency and accountability mechanisms to ensure those guidelines are implemented.



Add Your Signature to this Letter:

Total Signatures: 479, showing 100 per page
Prof. Peter Asaro Associate Professor School of Media Studies The New School USA
Prof. Evan Selinger Professor Philosophy Rochester Institute of Technology USA
Prof. Woodrow Hartzog Professor of Law and Computer Science School of Law and College of Computer and Information Science Northeastern University USA
Prof. Kelly Gates Associate Professor Communication and Science Studies UC San Diego USA
Prof. Lilly Irani Assistant Professor Communication & Science and Technology Studies University of California, San Diego USA
Prof. Lucy Suchman Professor Science & Technology Studies Lancaster University United Kingdom
Prof. Kaplan Professor American Studies UC Davis USA
Professor Yoshua Bengio Scientific Director Computer Science / Deep Learning MILA / U. Montreal Canada
Prof. Maya Wiley Henry Cohen Professor & Co-Director Digital Equity Laboratory The New School USA
Professor Toby Walsh Computer Science and Engineering UNSW Sydney Australia
Dr. Mary Anne Franks Professor Law University of Miami School of Law USA
Professor Annemarie Bridy Professor of Law College of Law University of Idaho USA
Prof Andrew Pickering Prof Emeritus Sociology University of Exeter United Kingdom
Prof Jonathan Sterne James McGill Professor of Culture and Technology Art History and Communication Studies McGill University Canada
Professor Lisa Nakamura Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor Digital studies U of Michigan Ann Arbor United States
Professor John Law Sociology Open University UK
Prof. Bruno Siciliano Professor of Robotics DIETI University of Naples Federico II Italy
Professor Michael Lynch Director University of Connecticut Humanities Institute United States
Dr Noel Sharkey, Professor Emeritus Professor of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Computer Science University of Sheffield UK
Prof. David H. Price Professor Anthropology St. Martin's University USA
Research Professor Toby Miller Graduate Division University of California, Riverside US
Meredith Whittaker Distinguished Research Scientist AI Now Institute NYU USA
Dr. Merel Noorman Assistant Professor Tilburg Instituten for Law, Technology and Society Tilburg University The Netherlands
Professor Anita Say Chan Associate Professor Media and Cinema Studies/National Center for Supercomputing Applications University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign United States
Prof. Christina Dunbar-Hester Associate Professor Communication Annenberg School, University of Southern California USA
Distinguished Professor Mary-Anne Williams Director, The Magic Lab Artificial Intelligence and Law University of Technology Sydney Australia
Dr. Mél Hogan Assistant Prof. CMF University of Calgary Canada
MA Nina Franz PhD candidate Cultural History and THeory Humboldt University, Berlin Germany
Professor Nancy Ettlinger Department of Geography Ohio State University USA
Chiara Addis PhD Candidate Salford Business School UK
Prof. Marika Cifor Assistant Professor School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering Indiana University Bloomington USA
Dr Vanessa Vega Research Associate Education Rockman et al United States
Dr Elke Schwarz Lecturer School of History, Politics and International Relations University of Leicester UK
Dr. Michael Nagenborg Ass. Professor Philosophy University Twente The Netherlands
Dr Daniel Howe Associate Professor School of Creative Media CityU Hong Kong Hong Kong
Dr. Katarina Mayer Machine Learning Scientist AI Slovakia
Dr Federico Venturini independent researcher human geography Italy
Prof Brian_Goldfarb Associate Professor Communication UC San Diego USA
Prof. Dr. Jutta Weber Professor Science and Technology Studies / Media Studies University of Paderborn Germany
Dr Mark Perry Reader Computer Science Brunel University London United Kingdom
Dr Pietro Galliani Researcher Mathematical Logic and Computer Science Free University of Bozen-Bolzano Italy
Dr. Rosalie G Riegle Professor Emerita English Saginaw Valley State University USA
Dr Joaquín Rodríguez Professor School of Prevention and Integral Safety and Security Autonomous University of Barcelona Catalonia
Dr. Neal Thomas Assistant Professor Communication UNC Chapel Hill USA
Kimberly Martin Calltaker - Communications Emergency Response Canada
Prof. Ramon Lopez de Mantaras Director Artificial Intelligence Artificial Intelligence Research Institute, Barcelona Spain
Dr. Max M Mansoubi Technology Startup Advisor Mansoubian & Associates United States
Professor Mike Ananny Associate Professor Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism University of Southern California USA
Dr Emily Gilbert Associate Professor Geography & Planning University of Toronto Canada
Prof PhD Alessandro Bianchi Ricercatore Informatics University of Bari Italy
Dr. Anna Lauren Hoffmann Assistant Professor The Information School University of Washington USA
Dr. Jane L Lehr Professor Ethnic Studies / WGS / STS California Polytechnic State University USA
Dr Steve Wright Reader in Applied Global Ethics Peace & Conflict Leeds Beckett University UK
Dr. Marko Tkalcic Assistant Professor Faculty of Computer Science Free University of Bozen-Bolzano Italy
sabine hoffman adjunct film united states
Prof. Yola Georgiadou Professor Geoinformatics University Twente The Netherlands
Christopher Miles PhD candidate Science and Technology Studies & Media Studies Indiana University USA
Prof. Luis Pereira Professor Computer Science Universidade Nova de Lisboa Portugal
Dr Maria Puig De La Bellacasa Associate Professor School of Business University of Leicester United Kingdom
Associate Professor Ricardo Dominguez New Media Art UCSD USA
Professor Margunn Aanestad Professor of Information Systems Department of Informatics University of Oslo Norway
Mr Shaun Chamberlin Managing Director Fleming Policy Centre Dark Optimism United Kingdom
Professor Erik Spinoy Cultural analysis Arts Université de Liège Belgium
Dr Birgit Schippers Senior Lecturer in Politics Liberal Arts St Mary's University College Belfast N. Ireland
Gayatri Singh Librarian Library UC San Diego USA
Dr. Zack Furness Associate Professor Communications Penn State University USA
Dr. Benjamin Schrader Visiting Professor International Relations Central European University Hungary
Dr. Ashley Shew Assistant Professor Science, Technology, and Society Virginia Tech USA
Paula Chakravartty Associate Professor Media, Culture and Communication NYU USA
Dr Gregoire Wallenborn Prof Energy and sustainability Universite Libre de bruxelles Belgium
Joanna Jia US
Dr. Ami Sommariva Adjunct Faculty University Studies Portland State University United States
Dr. Davison Bideshi Associate Professor Sociology and Anthropology Western Illinois University USA
Prof. Val Palmer-Mehta Professor Communication & Journalism Oakland University USA
Alexios Tsigkas PhD Candidate Anthropology The New School USA
Dr Peter Conlin Lecturer Media Coventry University UK
Dr Jason Buel Assistant Professor Communication North Carolina Wesleyan College United States
Professor Kalpana Shankar Information and Communication Studies University College Dublin Ireland
Silvia Semenzin PhD student Sociology University of Milan Italia
Diplom-Informatiker Friedemann Gerster-Streit Freelancer Software Development Germany
Prof Craig Robertson Associate Professor Media Studies Northeastern University USA
Dr. Davinia Thornley Senior Lecturer Media, Film and Communication University of Otago New Zealand
Dr. Minkyu Sung Associate Professor Communication Studies Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology South Korea
Dr. Linnet Taylor Assistant Professor TILT Tilburg University Netherlands
Dr Daniel Estrada University Lecturer Humanities New Jersey Institute of Technology United States
Prof. Michael Fischer STS & Anthropology MIT USA
Ms. Paloma Yáñez Serrano Phd Student Social Anthropology with visual media University of Manchester United Kingdom
Professor Adrian Smith Researcher Science Policy Research Unit University of Sussex UK
Dr. Sam Srauy Assistant Professor Communication and Journalism Oakland University USA
Meg Leta Jones Assistant Professor Communication, Culture, & Technology Georgetown University USA
Mr. Sergiu Ivanov Associate professor Computer Science Université d'Évry, Université Paris-Saclay France
Professor YOSHUA OKON Visual Arts SOMA Mexico
Dr. Joseph Masco Professor Anthropology University of Chicago USA
Professor Minoo Moallem Professor Gender and Women's Studies UC Berkeley U.S.
Professor Sally Munt Director Cultural Studies Sussex University UK
Dr. Maritza Quiñones Advisor Anthropology University of Illinois United States
Dr. Pedro de la Torre III Adjunct Assistant Professor Department of Anthropology John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY US
Prof. Raúl Monroy Professor computer science Computer Science Tecnologico de Monterrey Mexico
Dr Jamie Woodcock Researcher Oxford Internet Institute University of Oxford UK
Dr Christine Aicardi senior Research Fellow Science and Technology Studies King's College London UK

ICRAC Tweets