A casual announcement made Wednesday by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos that his company is writing facial recognition regulations for legislators to enact is exactly what "digital rights activists have been warning" would emerge from Silicon Valley unless lawmakers pass a full ban on facial recognition surveillance.
Bezos told reporters at a product launch event that the company's "public policy team is actually working on facial recognition regulations."
"It makes a lot of sense to regulate that," Bezos said. "It's a perfect example of something that has really positive uses so you don't want to put the breaks on it. At the same time there's lots of potential for abuses with that kind of technology and so you do want regulations."
Amazon earlier this year released facial recognition guidelines that it hoped lawmakers would consider when creating regulation.
— Jason Del Rey (@DelRey) September 26, 2019
For a form of technology that digital rights advocates call "uniquely dangerous," regulations—especially those that Amazon lobbyists have a hand in developing—are not sufficient to keep Americans safe from the privacy violations facial recognition can cause, said Fight for the Future.
"This is why we need to ban facial recognition," the group tweeted.
Yesterday Jeff Bezos brazenly admitted reporters that his company is writing its own #facialrecognition laws.
Here's our response: https://t.co/T91YqUH496
— Fight for the Future (@fightfortheftr) September 26, 2019
"Amazon wants to write the laws governing facial recognition to make sure they're friendly to their surveillance driven business model," said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, in a statement. "But this type of technology...poses a profound threat to the future of human liberty that can't be mitigated by industry-friendly regulations. We need to draw a line in the sand and ban governments from using this technology before it's too late."
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"Silicon Valley's calls to 'regulate' facial recognition are a trap, designed to hasten the widespread adoption of this invasive and harmful technology by implementing weak regulations that assuage public concern without putting a dent in corporate profits."
—Fight for the Future
Fight for the Future launched a campaign in July aimed at pushing Congress to pass a full ban on facial recognition, following the lead of Somerville, Massachusetts; San Francisco; and Oakland, California, which have barred government use of the technology in recent months.
Fight for the Future and other civil liberties advocates warn that the use of facial recognition technology by federal, state, and local agencies increases the risk of discrimination, police harassment, and false arrests and deportations. Women and people of color are particularly likely to be misidentified by the programs, U.K. government data showed last year.
"Silicon Valley's calls to 'regulate' facial recognition are a trap, designed to hasten the widespread adoption of this invasive and harmful technology by implementing weak regulations that assuage public concern without putting a dent in corporate profits," Fight for the Future said Wednesday.
Matt Cagle, a civil liberties attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, tweeted that the organization would be on alert for "weak corporate proposals seeking to undermine" the efforts of cities which have passed facial recognition bans and lawmakers in states including New York, Michigan, and California who are pushing for state-wide bans.
Mr. Bezos & Amazon are watching as legislatures across the US pass strict limits on face surveillance.
We will be on watch for weak corporate proposals seeking to undermine those on-going efforts. https://t.co/KMEygmhb0S
— Matt Cagle (@Matt_Cagle) September 26, 2019
In the United Kingdom, Labour politician Darren Jones said statements like that of Bezos should push his members of Parliament to fight for a ban on facial recognition surveillance.
"We can't outsource thought leadership and now even the drafting of our laws to private companies," tweeted Jones.
This is why we must find time to do this properly in our legislative assemblies. We can’t outsource thought leadership and now even the drafting of our laws to private companies. Crazy. https://t.co/xRAerMilY8
— Darren Jones MP (@darrenpjones) September 26, 2019
"We know that members of Congress are currently drafting legislation related to facial recognition," said Greer, "and we hope they know that the public will not accept trojan horse regulations that line Jeff Bezos' pockets at the expense of all of our basic human rights."