19 April 2019
A group of 90 advocacy groups have written a letter to technology giants Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, asking the companies to pledge not to sell their facial recognition technology to the government.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Refugee and Immigrant Centre for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), are among the groups that pressed these companies.
“We are at a crossroads with face surveillance, and the choices made by these companies now will determine whether the next generation will have to fear being tracked by the government for attending a protest, going to their place of worship, or simply living their lives,” Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director for the ACLU of California, said.
The letter comes after Google and Microsoft have acknowledged the risks involving facial recognition services as well as the potential dangers for misuse and surveillance. In December, Google had announced that it would not sell its technology until all possibilities for abuse were closed. Microsoft president Brad Smith had proposed several safeguards for the technology. However, the advocacy groups are asking for more stringent measures.
E-commerce giant Amazon has also been very aggressive in marketing facial recognition as part of its cloud platform. Last week, a report had stated that the FBI was piloting Amazon’s facial recognition tech, Rekognition. Amazon’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos had also made public remarks acknowledging the technology’s loopholes for abuse, however, he is pursuing partnerships with the federal government. The company plans to seek a $10 billion deal with the Pentagon where it would offer cloud services for the government agency in spite of employee backlash.
“Companies can’t continue to pretend that the ‘break then fix’ approach works,” Ozer said. “History has clearly taught us that the government will exploit technologies like face surveillance to target communities of colour, religious minorities, and immigrants.”
Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have not responded to requests for comment.