(UPI) — The American Civil Liberties Union demanded Amazon stop marketing facial recognition technology to government agencies, citing possible civil rights violations.
The ACLU Foundations of California released emails Tuesday between Amazon and law enforcement agencies in Orlando, Fla., and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon regarding the facial recognition technology called Rekognition, which is powered by artificial intelligence.
The team of three ACLU affiliates in California said in a release the 147 pages of documents, which include the emails, reveal how Amazon and its subsidiary Amazon Web Services marketed the facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies. The document release capped a six-month investigation into how Amazon has helped agencies deploy the technology.
The ACLU Foundations of California said it objects to Amazon’s marketing of Rekognition to these agencies based on privacy concerns and the potential for discriminatory abuse. It sent a letter Tuesday to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding his company stop marketing the product to government agencies.
“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,”Tuesday’s letter to Bezos said. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In over-policed communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it.”
An Amazon Web Services spokesperson defended the company in a statement to The Hill.
“Amazon requires that customers comply with the law and be responsible when they use AWS services,” an Amazon Web Services spokesperson told The Hill. “When we find that AWS services are being abused by a customer, we suspend that customer’s right to use our services.”
The spokesperson added: “Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology … Imagine if customers couldn’t buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?”
Tuesday’s letter was also signed by other ACLU chapters and several other activist organizations that focus on defending constitutional rights, civil rights and human rights such at the Center for Media Justice, Color of Change and Human Rights Watch.
“We already know that facial recognition algorithms discriminate against Black faces, and are being used to violate the human rights of immigrants,” Executive Director of the Center for Media Justice Malkia Cyril said in the ACLU release.
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