ACLU Asks Amazon to Halt Sale of Facial Recognition Software

Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN)  has been selling facial recognition software to police, and the American Civil Liberties Union has asked the online retailer to halt sales in light of possible civil rights concerns.

"Amazon not only markets Rekognition as a law enforcement service, it is helping governments deploy it. Amazon lists the city of Orlando, Florida, and the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Oregon among its customers," the ACLU said in a statement on Tuesday.

The ACLU sent Amazon a letter on Tuesday, May 22, asking Amazon to halt sales of the software.

The ACLU's investigation also has uncovered that "the documents we [the ACLU] obtained indicate that the Washington County Sheriff and the City of Orlando became Rekognition customers in 2017. Washington County has since built a database of at least 300,000 mugshot photos to use in coordination with Rekognition. It also built a mobile app for its deputies to quickly scan for a match against the county's database by submitting images obtained from surveillance or other sources."

In the past, Amazon has spoken out against secretive government surveillance. It signed a letter addressed to Congress in May 2017, asking the government to overhaul a foreign surveillance program. The program tracked the emails and phone calls of non-citizens, but  communications from Americans also may have been been mixed in. 

"Amazon's Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns. Today, the ACLU and a coalition of civil rights organizations demanded that Amazon stop allowing governments to use Rekognition," the ACLU said.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Amazon Web Services didn't answer emailed questions about how many law enforcement agencies were using Rekognition, but in a written statement the company said it requires all of its customers to comply with the law and to be responsible in the use of its products.

Amazon slipped 0.3% at market close on Tuesday.

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