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Letter to Google: Face Surveillance Technology

Google Should Commit to Not Sell Facial Recognition Products to Governments

January 15, 2019


Sundar Pichai Chief Executive Officer

Kent Walker Senior Vice President, Global Affairs Google LLC


Dear Mr. Pichai and Mr. Walker,

We are a coalition of organizations dedicated to protecting civil rights and liberties and safeguarding communities. We are encouraged by the initial steps Google has taken to recognize the harms of invasive surveillance technologies and artificial intelligence. As Mr. Pichai has said, the tech industry has a responsibility to think about the consequences of its technology, it “just can’t build it and then fix it.” We were also encouraged to see Google announce that it has not, and will not, sell a facial recognition product until the technology’s dangers are addressed, acknowledging its susceptibility to abuse and the importance of Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) principles. We write today to call on Google to follow its AI principles and fully commit to not releasing a facial recognition product that could be used by governments.  Google has positioned itself as a leader in the field of responsible and ethical artificial intelligence. This year, in response to sustained employee activism over its work for the Pentagon, Google published its AI principles, pledging that the company will only seek to develop AI that is socially beneficial, free from unfair bias, and tested for safety. The Principles specifically state that Google will not release technologies that gather or use information for surveillance that violates international norms. Consistent with these Principles, Google announced in December 2018 that it has not, and will not sell a facial recognition product until the technology’s dangers are addressed. 

The dangers of face surveillance can only be fully addressed by stopping its use by governments. Face surveillance provides the government 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 over-surveilled 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.

This past year, Google employees have made it clear that they expect the company to stand up for the vulnerable and refuse to “outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties.” In recent months, there has been widespread public concern about face surveillance, with dozens of members of Congress, shareholders, and over 150,000 members of the public blowing the whistle on the dangers of face surveillance both to the public and to public trust in companies.

By finalizing its commitment not to sell a face surveillance product, Google would also be safeguarding the trust of its workers, shareholders, and customers. Google has a responsibility to follow its AI principles. Selling a face surveillance product that could be used by the government will never be consistent with these Principles. It’s time for Google to fully commit to not releasing a face recognition product that could be used by governments. 

We look forward to your written response to this letter.


American Civil Liberties Union

ACLU Foundations of California

ACLU of Massachusetts

ACLU of Washington

New York Civil Liberties Union


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


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


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)


Our Revolution Arlington

Partnership for Working Families

Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College


Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project

Restore the Fourth Silicon Valley

Rising Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood

Starting Over, Inc.


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



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