Amazon facial recognition tech : A group of activist shareholders are proposing that Amazon.com Inc. stop selling facial recognition software to government agencies until its board determines the technology doesn’t threaten people’s civil rights.

The investors, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, a member of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, filed a resolution on the subject to be voted on at Amazon’s annual meeting later this year.

Civil rights groups blasted Amazon in 2018 for marketing its Rekognition service to police departments and government agencies. Thursday’s resolution, organized by nonprofit Open MIC, adds a financial twist and brings the debate into Amazon’s board room.

“It’s a familiar pattern: A leading tech company marketing what is hailed as breakthrough technology without understanding or assessing the many real and potential harms of that product,” said Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC. “Sales of Rekognition to government represent considerable risk for the company and investors. That’s why it’s imperative those sales be halted immediately.”

Amazon facial recognition in trouble

The Amazon Web Services product has been used to identify celebrities at Hollywoodevents. It can also be used by law enforcement agencies to quickly identify suspects from jail booking photos or other sources.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Project on Government Oversight say the facial recognition technology is unreliable and can produce more false positives for people with darker skin, making them more likely to be suspects in criminal investigations.

Amazon Web Services Chief Executive Officer Andy Jassy in November said Amazon is working to educate government officials about how to use the software, and said it is only used as a tool in investigations, not the sole factor considered in identifying suspects.

“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,” wrote the shareholders. They also recommended that the board assess, alongside experts and civil rights advocates, how this type of technology could “endanger or violate privacy or civil rights, and disproportionately impact people of color, immigrants and activists, and how Amazon would mitigate these risks.” Their statement also suggested a probe into how facial recognition tech could be marketed and sold to repressive governments.

The shareholders are seeking a vote on the resolution at Amazon’s summer shareholder meeting.

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Samba Shiva Thadavarthi
Mr. Shiva is a technologist by profession and technical writer by passion. He has served in several organisations as Research and Development manager and wrote versatile articles on the current trends of technological transformation.

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