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Policy Summary
At Amazon.com’s annual shareholder meeting in Seattle, two non – binding proposals regarding Amazon.com’s sales of facial recognition software – known as Rekognition – to government entities were placed on the ballot for a shareholder vote. The first proposal asked whether Amazon.com should stop selling the software to government entities until it concludes that the software does not infringe on civil liberties. The second proposal asked whether an independent commission should conduct a civil rights review on the use of the software. Amazon.com announced that the shareholder vote on both proposals did not pass with an overwhelming number of votes against the proposals. Some reports indicated that the vote against the proposals was as high as 98% against although Amazon.com has not released specific numbers yet. Although the shareholder vote was non – binding, the failure of the proposals paves the way for Amazon.com to increase sales of Rekognition to federal, state and local government institutions for use. LEARN MORE

Analysis
Facial recognition software is becoming an increasingly contentious issue in the U.S. The core use of the software – the ability to use public cameras to scan a live crowd of people (at sporting events, concerts or any large public gathering) and instantly connect with public databases (DMV records, police arrest records) to match people’s faces – raises privacy concerns and a lack of oversight of activities of law enforcement departments. Amazon had initially allowed police departments in Oregon and Florida to test the use of their software. Other cities began to express interest and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) began a campaign to counter the widespread use of the technology. In May 2019, the City of San Francisco became the first city to ban their police department from using the technology. Soon after cities in Oakland, California and Somerville, Massachusetts considered similar citywide bans while the Legislatures in Washington State and California considered statewide bans of the software. (California’s bill eventually was aimed only at banning the software from police body cameras and was passed by the California Assembly in May 2019). On June 3, 2019 the ACLU sent a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee requesting a moratorium on federal use of the technology.

With growing opposition, an approach aimed directly at Amazon.com was devised which would have Amazon.com shareholders take a direct role in sending a message to the company on the dangers of this technology. The two proposals could have sent a direct message to CEO Jeff Bezos to be more prudent and to take caution in selling the software to the federal government until a thorough analysis of the software could be undertaken. Sadly, both proposals failed with reports that shareholders overwhelmingly rejected the proposals. Had both proposals passed, Amazon.com could have sent a message that it places a high value on privacy and civil liberties but this vote instead shows that corporate profits are more important to Amazon shareholders. The battle now shifts back to the federal, state and local government levels and their options in trying to limit the spread and potential misuse of this dangerous new technology. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

Photo by unsplash-logoChristian Wiediger

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