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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Dr Leandro Rodriguez Medina Assoc Prof International Relations and Political Science Universidad de las Americas Puebla Mexico
Ms Joelle Tanguy Switzerland
Prof. Helen Daly Associate Professor Philosophy Colorado College United States
Mr. Ryan O'Loughlin Graduate Student History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine Indiana University-Bloomington U.S.
Dr. Benjamin Birkinbine Assistant Professor Reynolds School of Journalism University of Nevada, Reno USA
Dr. Randall Nichols Assistant Professor Communication University of Washington Tacoma USA
Prof Leslie Regan Shade Professor Faculty of Information University of Toronto Canada
Professor Aristotle Tympas Greece
Dr Gholam Khiabany Reader Media and Communications Goldsmiths UK
Prof. Paul Dourish Chancellor's Professor School of Information and Computer Sciences UC Irvine USA
Professor Arto Laitinen Professor in Social Philosophy Faculty of Social Sciences/Philosophy University of Tampere Finland
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Dr. Changwook Kim Assistant Professor Sociology Handong Global University South Korea
Dr. Kristof Van den Troost Assistant Professor Centre for China Studies The Chinese University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
Mr Hans Louis G. Marasigan M.A. Candidate/Lecturer Philosophy Angeles University Foundation/University of Santo Tomas Philippines
Dr Richard Billingsley Research fellow The Magic Lab University Technology Sydney Australia
Dr Guido Noto La Diega Senior Lecturer in Cyber Law and Intellectual Property Law Northumbria University United Kingdom
Dr. Sassan Gholiagha Research Fellow International Politics and Law WZB Berlin Social Science Center Germany
Miss Jacqui_Ayling Researcher Web Science CDT University of southampton UK
Mr Brett Scott Senior Fellow Finance Innovation Lab United Kingdom
Ms Diane_Babak Phd candidate Innovation Da Vinci South Africa
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Diani Barreto Independent Researcher Whistleblower advocacy Germany
Dr. Kenneth Halliwell Physician Neurology Self United States
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Prof. Heather Paxson Professor Anthropology MIT USA
Prof Kate Henne Canada Research Chair University of Waterloo Canada
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Mr Divy Thakkar Graduate Student Policy Indian Institute of Foreign Trade India
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Dr Adam Linson Research Fellow Computing Science and Philosophy University of Stirling UK
Dr Anna Åberg Assistant professor History of Science and Technology Chalmers University of Technology Sweden
Dr Alistair Welchman Associate Professor Philosophy University of Texas at San Antonio US
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MA Katja Schoenian PhD candidate Cultural and social sciences Viadrina University, Frankfurt/Oder Germany
Dr. Darakhshan Mir Assistant Professor Computer Science Bucknell University US
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DR Denise Garcia Professor Social Sciences Northeastern University United States
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Prof. Lauren Wilcox Assistant Professor Interactive Computing Georgia Tech USA
Dr. Nicholas Knouf Assistant Professor Cinema and Media Studies Wellesley College USA
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Prof Nathan Ryan Associate Professor Mathematics Bucknell University USA
Dr Alon Lischinsky Senior Lecturer School of History, Philosophy & Culture Oxford Brookes University UK
Prof. Tamara Kneese Assistant Professor Media Studies University of San Francisco USA
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Dr. Katie Terezakis Associate Professor Philosophy RIT United States
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Dr Thompson Chengeta Fellow Law South African Research Chair in International Law Zimbabwe
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