Over 20 civil rights groups demand Amazon divest surveillance technology, end relationships with police
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More than 20 civil rights groups are demanding Amazon "permanently" divest its surveillance technology and end its relationship with law enforcement.
The groups, led by the progressive digital rights advocacy organization Fight for the Future, noted that on June 10, 2020, Amazon announced a year-long moratorium on the use of its facial recognition technology, Rekognition, by law enforcement. The moratorium was extended until further notice in May, according to Reuters.
"Amazon is dragging us toward a world dominated by total corporate surveillance," Fight for the Future Director Evan Greer said in a Thursday statement. "They envision neighborhoods that are blanketed in devices that constantly monitor all of us: tracking our movements, analyzing our faces, listening to our conversations, monitoring our heartbeats, and harvesting our most intimate data for the sole purpose of expanding Amazon's power and profit."
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Amazon did not immediately respond to an inquiry from FOX Business.
Civil rights groups calling on Amazon to divest the technology include MediaJustice, Public Citizen, Demand Progress, United for Respect, Free Press and MPowerChange. Additionally, more than 10,000 people have joined the effort by submitting digital protest videos, signing a petition or posting about the protest on social media.
"Amazon's surveillance empire fuels militarized policing. It needs to stop," the digital protest coalition called Protest Amazon said in a Thursday statement. "We demand Amazon permanently divest from facial recognition technology and cut ties with police and ICE."
The groups also noted that Amazon's home security camera company, Ring, now has partnerships with more than 1,800 police departments in the U.S. out of nearly 18,000 total departments across the country.
The company's "Neighbors" app notifies Ring users when neighbors or local law enforcement agencies send out public safety alerts. Ring announced plans earlier this month to allow police to make public "requests for assistance" related to specific investigations to Ring users over a limited amount of time.
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"Ring believes transparency and accountability are crucial to safer, better communities," an Amazon spokesperson told FOX Business in an email Tuesday. "Since its founding, Ring has been committed to improving its products and services by listening to and incorporating feedback from all parts of our communities. As part of this effort, Ring has been working with independent third-party experts to identify ways to provide customers with greater insight into how public safety agencies use the Neighbors App."
Greer said in her statement that Ring's recent announcement "does nothing to end partnerships or address the concerns raised by grassroots activists. It would be laughable if there weren’t lives at stake."
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"Amazon's surveillance dragnet of doorbell cameras, delivery cameras, and other surveillance infrastructure violates privacy, subverts basic civil rights, and fuels the same police violence that’s getting Black people killed," she said.
Amazon's Rekognition tool has received scrutiny from activists for several years for misidentifying minority individuals as police suspects. Amazon Web Services – the company's cloud-computing subsidiary – told Fox News in a 2018 statement following an ACLU report on Rekognition that testing "results could probably be improved by following best practices around setting the confidence thresholds."
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AWS also noted that Rekognition is designed to efficiently trawl through vast quantities of image data.
"It is worth noting that in real-world scenarios, Amazon Rekognition is almost exclusively used to help narrow the field and allow humans to expeditiously review and consider options using their judgment (and not to make fully autonomous decisions), where it can help find lost children, restrict human trafficking, or prevent crimes," the spokesperson continued.
Fox News' James Rogers contributed to this report.
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