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Jeff Bezos slammed by 85 groups for selling facial-recognition tech to the feds

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Rekognize this.
Rekognize this.

Image: James Leynse / getty

Jeff Bezos just found himself on the receiving end of a sternly worded letter. This one, however, may actually have some bite. 

On Jan. 15, a coalition of 85 different organizations including human rights groups, civil liberty organizations, and justice system reform advocates sent the Amazon CEO an open letter demanding that his company stop selling facial-recognition technology to the government. 

The tech, dubbed Rekognition by Amazon, has received widespread criticism for false positives and possible racial bias — facts that have so far failed to slow Amazon’s efforts to profit off the technology. 

The letter — signed by the likes of the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Government Accountability Project, Human Rights Watch, National Immigration Law Center, and RAICES (to name just a few) — comes out swinging, and doesn’t let up. 

“In a world with face surveillance, people will have to fear being watched and targeted by the government for attending a protest, congregating outside a place of worship, or simply living their lives,” it reads. “Instead of acting to protect against the very real dangers of face surveillance, your company is ignoring community concerns and further pushing this technology into the hands of government agencies.”

This isn’t the first attempt to shame Bezos into ceasing to provide Rekognition to the government. In June of 2018, the ACLU delivered a petition signed by over 150,000 people to the CEO with the same goal. What’s more, as Gizmodo reported in June, even some of Amazon’s own employees have turned on the company’s law enforcement contracts. 

Bezos, for his part, has continued on seemingly unfazed. As today’s letter notes, Nextgov reported earlier this month that the FBI is using Rekognition in a limited capacity. What’s more, The Daily Beast reported in October that Amazon was “pitching ICE on its face-scanning tech” as recently as this summer.

“By continuing to sell your face surveillance product to government entities, Amazon is gravely threatening the safety of community members, ignoring the protests of its own workers, and undermining public trust in its business,” the letter notes. “Amazon must stop providing a face surveillance product to governments.” 

We reached out to Amazon in an effort to determine what effect, if any, this letter would have on its Rekognition plans going forward. We received no response as of press time. 

Here’s hoping that the 85 signatories of today’s letter have better luck. 

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