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 Amazon.com 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.

 

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TitleFirst_and_Last_NamePositionDepartment/Program/FieldInstitution/AffiliationCountry
Dr Ing Boudewijn de Jong Nederelands
Dr. Suzanne Bergeron Professor Women's Studies and Social Sciences University of Michigan Dearborn USA
Dr. Philip Olson Associate Professor STS Virginia Tech USA
Dr. Rebecca Mercado Jones Assistant Professor Communication Studies Oakland University USA
UX Research and Strategy Susan Farrell Human Computer Interaction AI product design USA
Mr. Michael Wohl Sales Manager Finance Trust Capital USA
Rahma Mian Lecturer Communication and Design (field: media and critical theory, technology politics and culture) Habib University Pakistan
Professor Piotr Szpunar Asst. Prof. University at Albany, SUNY USA
Dr Swapna Gopinath Associate Professor English and Cultural Studies University of Kerala India
Mr. Bhavin Faldu Researcher Artificial Intelligence India
Noah Geraci Associate Librarian Library University of California, Riverside USA
Dr. Roser Martinez Professor Public Law Autonomous University of Barcelona Spain
Sriram Mohan PhD candidate Communication Studies / Science, Technology & Society University of Michigan USA
Dr. Sara Matthews Associate Professor Global Studies Wilfrid Laurier University Canada
Dr. Celine Latulipe Professor Computer Science UNC Charlotte United States
Prof. David Golumbia Associate Professor Digital Studies Virginia Commonwealth University USA
MA Olya Kudina PhD cand. Philosophy of Technology University of Twente The Netherlands
Dr. Sue Collins Associate Professor Humanities MIchigan Technological University USA
Dr. Barbara Bush Lecturer Communication Studies University of California, San Diego USA
Mr Thomas Varsasvky PhD student AI UCL UK
Dr. Lisa McLaughlin Associate Professor Media, Journalism and Film Miami University United States
Dr. Ron Tsir Consultant Computer Technology Stratified Networks U.S.A.
Prof. Christo Sims Assistant Professor Communication University of California San Diego USA
Professor Louise Bethlehem Associate Professor English and Cultural Studies Hebrew University of Jerusalem Israel
Niloufar Salehi PhD student Computer Science Stanford University USA
Dr Christina Neumayer Associate Professor Digital Design IT University of Copenhagen Denmark
Dr Kerwyn huang Associate prof Bioengineering Stanford Usa
Dr. Jennifer King Researcher Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School Stanford University USA
Professor Tania Lewis Director, Digital Ethnography Research Centre Media and Communication RMIT University Australia
Dr. Earl Aguilera Assistant Professor Curriculum and Instruction California State University - Fresno United States
Dr. Faustino Gomez CEO Artificial Intelligence NNAISENSE USA
Michael Palm Associate Professor of Media and Technology Studies Communication / American Studies UNC-Chapel Hill US
Prof Lucy Robinson Head of History (Research) History University of Sussex United Kingdom
Dr. Carolyn_Elerding Assistant Professor Women’s Studies Wichita State University US
Anne Jonas PhD Student School of Information UC Berkeley United States
Mx Os Keyes PhD student Human-Computer Interaction University of Washington United States
Prof Andrew Clement Emeritus Professor Faculty of Information University of Toronto Canada
Dr. Catherine L. Preston Professor Media studies University of Kansas US
Prof. Robin L. Zebrowski Associate Professor Cognitive Science Beloit College USA
Miss Jessica_Adams United Kingdom
Dr. Katie Vann Science and Technology Studies United States
Dr. Frank Sauer Senior Researcher Bundeswehr University Munich Germany
Prof. Andrea Esser Professor of Media and Globalization Media, Culture & Language Roehampton University UK
Dr. Doris Allhutter Senior Researcher Institute of Technology Assessment Austrian Academy of Sciences Austria
Dr. Sally Applin Research Associate Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) Yale University US
Dr Jonas Andersson Schwarz Senior Lecturer Media & Communications Södertörn University Sweden
Dr Aris Mousoutzanis Principal Lecturer Film & Screen Studies University of Brighton United Kingdom
Ms. Maya Hey Lecturer Communication Studies Concordia University Canada
Michael Katell PhD Candidate Information School University of Washington USA
Dr. Jan_Hinrik_Schmidt Senior Researcher Hans-Bredow-Institute Germany
Dr Seda gurses Post-doc Computer science KU Leuven/Princeton BE
Dr Gilad Rosner Founder Privacy and Information Policy Internet of Things Privacy Forum UK
Dr. Ricky Crano Tufts University United States
Dr. Irina Mikhalevich Assistant Professor Philosophy Rochester Institute of Technology United States
Klaus Hans Teuschler Curator Jewish Museum Berlin Germany
Mr. Ian King Phd Candidate The Information School University of Washington US
Dr. Evelyn Brister Associate Professor Philosophy Rochester Institute of Technology USA
Marc Schmalz Doctoral Student Information Science University of Washington United States
Dr. Maja van der Velden Assoc. Professor Dept. of Informatics University of Oslo Norway
Ms Alison Baker Senior Lecturer Education University of East London United Kingdom
Katriel PhD student Cyber security Oxford UK
Prof. Wade Robison Professor Philosophy RIT USA
Prof. Megan Finn Assistant Professor Information School University of Washington USA
Prof. Perry Hoberman Associate Research Professor Media Arts + Practice USC School of Cinematic Arts USA
Dr Russell Glasson Researcher/Tutor Digital Humanities University of Sussex UK
Professor Thomas M. McDonnell Professor of Law Elisabeth Haub School Law School Pace University United States
Prof. Joshua Reeves Assistant Professor Communication Oregon State University USA
Dr. Yiu fai chow Hong Kong
Dr Barbara Bok Futures Studies & Social Studies of Science Australia
Mr. Mohamed ElGohary Lingua Manager Global Voices Egypt
Prof. Guglielmo Tamburrini Professor DIETI - Dept. Electrical Engineering and Information Technologies Universita' di Napoli Federico II Italy
Dr Michael Guggenheim Reader Sociology Goldsmiths, University of London Switzerland
anne weeks USA
M Pierre Lafrance President AI Marvhell inc Canada
Dr. Sarah T. Roberts Assistant Professor Information Studies UCLA United States
Professor Greg Elmer Professor Communication Ryerson University Canada
Mr Juan José Berger Luis Prof DGE UCH Chile
Dr Niamh Moore Chancellor's Fellow Sociology University of Edinburgh UK
Richard Maxwell Professor Media Studies CUNY-Queens College USA
Dr Ari Heinrich Associate Professor Literature UCSD USA
Professor Nicholas Sammond Associate Professor Cinema Studies Institute University of Toronto Canada
Tine Neumann Deutschland
Larry Gross Professor Communication USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism United States
Ms. Lillie Sanchez PhD Student Anthropology UC San Diego USA
Dr. Jathan Sadowski Research Fellow in Smart Cities School of Architecture, Design and Planning The University of Sydney Australia
Dr Haris Shekeris Post-Doctoral Researcher Philosophy Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3 France
Dr. Lawrence Cohen Professor Anthropology UC Berkeley USA
Christina Aushana PhD Candidate Communication University of California, San Diego USA
Dr. Yong Liu Researcher Institute for Legal Studies Hebei Academy of Social Sciences China
Jaap Jumelet Master Student Artificial Intelligence Netherlands
Richard McGovern Student Masters of Science in Information Management University of Washington USA
Dr. Timnit Gebru PhD Graduate Electrical Engineering Stanford University USA
Dr Katina Michael Professor Engineering and Information Sciences University of Wollongong Australia
Ms Vickie Zhang PhD Candidate Geography THe University of Melbourne Australia
Harris Kornstein PhD Candidate Media, Culture, and Communication New York University USA
Professor Kevin Howley Professor Media Studies DePauw University USA
Dr Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan Research Coordination Humanitarian Disarmament Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor Canada
Prof. Amy Herzog Associate Professor Media Studies Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY USA
Samantha Breslin Department of Anthropology Memorial Unviersity of Newfoundland Canada
Prof Kwai-Cheung Lo Professor Humanities and Creative Writing Hong Kong Baptist University Hong Kong