A group of Amazon employees have written a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos, saying they “will not let” the company make facial-recognition technology for police departments and government agencies.
The letter comes days after 19 Amazon shareholders wrote a similar letter urging Bezos to stop selling the technology, fearing publicity about it would drive down the company’s value.
On May 22, the ACLU said that Amazon is marketing its AWS Rekognition tool to law-enforcement agencies. Calling it “a product that can be readily used to violate civil liberties and civil rights,” the ACLU described its capabilities: “Powered by artificial intelligence, Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces.”
The Amazon employees’ letter said they “refuse to build the platform” that could be used by ICE or other government agencies that could violate human rights. “As ethically concerned Amazonians, we demand a choice in what we build, and a say in how it is used,” the letter states. “We learn from history, and we understand how IBM’s systems were employed in the 1940s to help Hitler.”
They added: “IBM did not take responsibility then, and by the time their role was understood, it was too late. We will not let that happen again. The time to act is now.”
According to historians, during World War II, IBM’s German division sold technology to Hitler’s army that enabled it to track Jewish citizens and operate concentration camps.
The Amazon workers’ letter lists three demands: For Amazon to stop selling the technology to law enforcement, to stop providing technology to partners that enable ICE, and to practice stronger transparency.
“Our company should not be in the surveillance business; we should not be in the policing business; we should not be in the business of supporting those who monitor and oppress marginalized populations,” the letter concludes.
Amazon wouldn’t comment on the letter but has defended the Rekognition tool in the past. “As a technology, Amazon Rekognition has many useful applications in the real world,” a company spokesperson said. “Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology.”