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Large coalition of groups calls on tech giants to commit to no facial biometrics for government



A coalition of more than 85 advocacy groups has written Amazon, Google, and Microsoft to ask them not to provide facial recognition to the U.S. government. Groups co-signing the letter include several chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Watch, chapters of the National Lawyers Guild, SumOfUs, and Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Each of the letters is slightly different, with the letter to Amazon pointedly accusing the company of “ignoring community concerns” and saying it has “refused to provide meaningful answers to Congressional inquiries.” ACLU has been publicly sparring with Amazon over law enforcement use of its Rekognition biometric software, and requested in October that Homeland Security disclose its plans for facial recognition technology.

“Companies can’t continue to pretend that the ‘break then fix’ approach works,” said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties director for the ACLU of California. “History has clearly taught us that the government will exploit technologies like face surveillance to target communities of color, religious minorities, and immigrants. We are at a crossroads with face surveillance, and the choices made by these companies now will determine whether the next generation will have to fear being tracked by the government for attending a protest, going to their place of worship, or simply living their lives.”

The letter to Google referring to CEO Sundar Pichai’s warning that the AI industry “just can’t build it and then fix it.” The groups laud Google’s decision to pause its facial recognition business while the controversy is addressed, and called on the company to commit to not releasing a facial biometric product for government use. Likewise, they commend Microsoft for its recognition of the risks associated with facial recognition technology, but says the safeguards proposed by President Brad Smith are “wholly inadequate.”

The FBI is reportedly piloting Amazon Rekognition for forensic video analysis to free agents from the time-consuming task of sifting through huge volumes of footage for investigations.

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