Amazon shareholders hit out at Jeff Bezos and call for the CEO to stop selling controversial facial recognition software to police

Amazon shareholders hit out at Jeff Bezos and call for the CEO to stop selling controversial facial recognition software to police

Annie Palmer | The Daily Mail | Source URL

Amazon investors are turning up the heat on CEO Jeff Bezos with a new letter demanding he stop selling the company’s controversial facial recognition technology to police.

The shareholder proposal calls for Amazon to stop offering the product, called Rekognition, to government agencies until it undergoes a civil and human rights review. 

It follow similar criticisms voiced by 450 Amazon employees, as well as civil liberties groups and members of Congress, over the past several months. 

‘Rekognition contradicts Amazon’s opposition to facilitating surveillance,’ the letter states. 

‘…Shareholders have little evidence our company is effectively restricting the use of Rekognition to protect privacy and civil rights. 

‘…Resolved, shareholders request that the Board of Directors prohibit sales of facial recognition technology to government agencies unless the Board concludes, after an evaluation using independent evidence, that the technology does not cause or contribute to actual or potential violations of civil and human rights,’ it continues. 

Amazon reportedly received the shareholder proposal on December 19th and it’s slated to go up for a vote at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Spring 2019.   

Dailymail.com has reached out to Amazon for comment.   

The FBI is believed to be testing the controversial facial recognition technology, while Amazon was found to be selling the service to law enforcement agencies in the city of Orlando and Washington County, Oregon. 

It’s also believed to have proposed the technology to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud division, also counts the Department of Defense and the CIA as its customers.   

The document goes on to cite several arguments for why the technology could spiral out of control and potentially infringe upon US citizens’ human rights. 

Additionally, it makes the case that Amazon is deploying the technology without regard for these concerns, pointing to an incident in July 2018 where Amazon executive Teresa Carlson was asked whether Amazon has ‘drawn any red lines, any standards, guidelines, on what you will and you will not do in terms of defense work.’ 

Carlson reportedly said in response: ‘We have not drawn any lines there…We are unwaveringly in support of our law enforcement, defense and intelligence community.’ 

The resolution was organized by non-profit Open MIC and filed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, a member of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, among others.

All parties involved with the proposal oversee a whopping $1.32 billion in assets under management, according to Open MIC. 

‘It’s a familiar pattern: a leading tech company marketing what it has hailed as breakthrough technology without understanding or assessing the many real and potential harms of that product,’ Michael Conner, executive director of Open MIC, said in a statement. 

‘Sales of Rekognition to government represent considerable risk for the company and investors. 

That’s why it’s imperative those sales be halted immediately,’ he added.  

The tech giant has repeatedly drawn the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other privacy advocates over the tool.

First released in 2016, Amazon has since been selling it on the cheap to several police departments around the US, listing the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon as one of several customers. 

The ACLU and other organizations are now calling on Amazon to stop marketing the product to law enforcement, saying they could use the technology to ‘easily build a system to automate the identification and tracking of anyone’.   

Police appear to be using Rekognition to check photographs of unidentified suspects against a database of mug shots from the county jail. 

But privacy advocates have been concerned about expanding the use of facial recognition to body cameras worn by officers or safety and traffic cameras that monitor public areas, allowing police to identify and track people in real time. 

Amazon offers the technology to law enforcement for just $6 (£4.50) to $12 (£9) a month.       

Deputies in Oregon had been using Rekognition about 20 times per day – for example, to identify burglary suspects in store surveillance footage.

In September, the agency adopted policies governing its use, noting that officers in the field can use real-time face recognition to identify suspects who are unwilling or unable to provide their own ID, or if someone’s life is in danger.   

HOW DOES AMAZON’S CONTROVERSIAL RECKOGNITION TECHNOLOGY WORK?

Amazon Rekognition gives software applications the power to detect objects, scenes and faces within images.

It was built with computer vision, which lets AI programs analyse still and video images.

AI systems rely on artificial neural networks, which try to simulate the way the brain works in order to learn.

They can be trained to recognise patterns in information – including speech, text data, or visual images.

Rekognition uses deep learning neural network models to analyse billions of images daily.

Updates since it was created even allow the technology to guess a person’s age.

In November 2017, its creators announced that Rekognition can now detect and recognise text in images, perform real-time face recognition across tens of millions of faces and detect up to 100 faces in challenging crowded photos.

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