A group of Amazon shareholders is now formally asking the company to stop selling its Rekognition facial recognition software to government agencies.
In the resolution, some shareholders ask the company’s board of directors to step in and stop such sales “unless the Board concludes, after an evaluation using independent evidence, that the technology does not cause or contribute to actual or potential violations of civil and human rights.” The petitioning shareholders expect the resolution will be voted on during the company’s annual meeting this spring.
The primary shareholder on the petition is the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, a member of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment.
“The Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood have committed as a congregation to support immigrant communities and promote racial equity, and this applies to our investments,” Sister Patricia Mahoney said in a statement. “Therefore, we filed this proposal because we are concerned that Amazon has pitched facial recognition technology to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and piloted its Rekognition with police departments, without fully assessing potential human rights impacts.”
The group isn’t alone in their interest in halting, or at least slowing, government use of these technologies.
Just earlier this week, American Civil Liberties Union, together with a bunch of other civil rights groups, called on Amazon and other software companies to stop selling facial recognition tech to the government. The ACLU seems pleased to see the issue raised by yet another set of stakeholders.
“The fact that Amazon’s shareholders felt compelled to take this up to the company’s board of directors should be a wake-up call to Amazon’s leadership to take concerns around face surveillance seriously,” Shankar Narayan, the Technology and Liberty Project director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said in a statement.
Despite regular pressure from civil rights groups, and increasing questioning from Congress, Amazon has maintained that facial recognition technology is a net positive for the government. Asked if the business has “drawn any red lines” around its government work after employees protested the sale of Rekognition to law enforcement agencies, Teresa Carlson, vice president of worldwide public sector for Amazon Web Services, said no.
“We provide them the tools, we don’t provide the solution application that they build,” she said of Amazon’s government sales during the Aspen Security Forum in July 2018. “And we often don’t know everything they’re actually utilizing the tool for. But they need to have the most innovative and cutting-edge tools they can.”
It’s unclear which additional shareholders are joining the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood in their resolution, but the organization says that the group represents a total of $1.32 billion in assets under management.