January 15, 2019

 

Jeffrey P. Bezos, Founder and Chief Executive Officer

David Zapolsky, General Counsel and Senior Vice President

Amazon.com, Inc.

 

Dear Mr. Bezos and Mr. Zapolsky,

We are a coalition of organizations dedicated to protecting civil rights and liberties and safeguarding communities. We write today to reiterate our demand that Amazon stop providing its face surveillance product, Rekognition, to the government. Protecting communities and retaining customer trust requires that Amazon act immediately.

Since we sent our first letter in May 2018, Rekognition has been the subject of widespread attention and opposition. Over 150,000 consumers have signed petitions demanding Amazon stop providing Rekognition to governments. Dozens of members of Congress, including the Congressional Black Caucus, have recognized Amazon’s responsibility to protect people from the harms of face surveillance. Institutional shareholders have sounded the alarm about Rekognition’s impact on Amazon’s business. More than 400 Amazon employees, including senior engineers, have made it clear that they do not want to build products like Rekognition that will harm vulnerable communities.

The dangers of face surveillance can only be fully addressed by stopping its use by governments. Face surveillance provides government agencies with an unprecedented ability to track who we are, where we go, what we do, and who we know. Face surveillance gives the government new power to target and single out immigrants, religious minorities, and people of color in our communities. Systems built on face surveillance will amplify and exacerbate historical and existing bias that harms these and other over-policed and oversurveilled communities. 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.

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. It was recently revealed that Amazon has discussed Rekognition with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a deal that if realized would supersize the government’s ability to target and separate families living in our communities. The F.B.I. is also piloting the use of Rekognition. All the while, you have refused to provide meaningful answers to Congressional inquiries, including basic information about the company’s government customers.

Amazon’s inaction in response to widespread concerns about face surveillance stands in contrast to the steps taken by its competitors. In December 2018, Google announced it will not sell a face surveillance product until the technology’s dangers are addressed, with its CEO Sundar Pichai warning that the tech industry “just can’t build it and then fix it.” And Microsoft’s President Brad Smith rightly acknowledged the risks associated with face surveillance and the company’s obligation to act internally to address potential harms. It is wholly irresponsible to wait for society to develop an “immune response” to technologies like face surveillance, as Mr. Bezos has suggested. As your employees wrote, “we already know” Rekognition will “ultimately serve to harm the most marginalized.” The dangers are clear, and so are the steps to address those dangers.

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. Amazon must stop providing a face surveillance product to governments.  We look forward to your written response to this letter.

Signed,

American Civil Liberties Union

ACLU Foundations of California

ACLU of Massachusetts

ACLU of Washington

New York Civil Liberties Union 

18MillionRising.org

A New PATH

Access Now

ALIGN (The Alliance for a Greater New York)

American Friends Service Committee

American Muslim Empowerment Network-Muslim Association of Puget Sound

American Muslims of Puget Sound

Arab American Institute

Asian Americans Advancing Justice - AAJC

Asian Americans Advancing Justice- Asian Law Caucus

CAIR San Francisco Bay Area

Californians United for a Responsible Budget

Campaign for Accountability

Casa Latina Center for Media Justice

Center on Policy Initiatives

Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice

Color Of Change

Council on American Islamic Relations, Massachusetts

Council on American-Islamic Relations, California

CREDO Action

Data for Black Lives

Defending Rights & Dissent

Demand Progress

Densho

El Centro de la Raza

 Electronic Frontier Foundation

End Solitary Santa Cruz County

Entre Hermanos

Fair Chance Project

Families for Justice as Healing

Families Belong Together

Fight for the Future

Free Press

Freedom for Immigrants

Freedom of the Press Foundation

Government Accountability Project

Government Information Watch

Grassroots Collaborative

Harrington Investments, Inc.

Harvard Law School National Lawyers Guild

Human Rights Watch

Immigrant Defense Project

Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility

International Committee for Robot Arms Control

John T. Williams Organizing Committee

Justice for Muslims Collective

LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy)

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

Library Freedom Project

Lucy Parsons Labs

Make the Road New York

Media Alliance

Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Mijente

Muslim Justice League

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

National Immigration Law Center

National Immigration Project of the NLG

National Lawyers Guild - New York City Chapter

National Lawyers Guild - Massachusetts Chapter

New Economy Project

New York Communities for Change

Oakland Privacy

OCCORD (Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development)

OneAmerica

Our Revolution Arlington

Partnership for Working Families

Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College

RAICES

Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project

Restore the Fourth Silicon Valley

Rising Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood

Starting Over, Inc.

SumOfUs

Tenth Amendment Center

The Greenlining Institute

The Legal Aid Society (NYC)

The Project on Government Oversight

Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment

Unitarian Universalist Mass Action

War Resisters League

Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

X-Lab