Shankar Narayan, legislative director of the ACLU of Washington, left, speaks at a news conference outside Amazon headquarters Monday in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

Shankar Narayan, legislative director of the ACLU of Washington, left, speaks at a news conference outside Amazon headquarters Monday in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

Some Amazon investors side with ACLU on facial recognition

By Sally Ho

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — Some Amazon company investors said Monday they are siding with privacy and civil rights advocates who are urging the tech giant to not sell a powerful face recognition tool to police.

The American Civil Liberties Union is leading the effort against Amazon’s Rekognition product, delivering a petition with 152,000 signatures to the company’s Seattle headquarters Monday, telling the company to “cancel this order.”

They’re asking Amazon to stop marketing Rekognition to government agencies over privacy issues that they said can be used to discriminate against minorities.

Amazon said it’s an object detection tool.

The company through a spokesman said it can be used for law enforcement tasks ranging from fighting human trafficking to finding lost children, and that just like computers, it can be a force for good in responsible hands.

But a group of 19 investment managing companies, including Harrington Investments Inc. and Walden Asset Management, expressed concerns about the tool.

John Harrington, president and CEO of the California-based Harrington Investments Inc., said the investors collectively manage about $10 billion in common voting stock among thousands of individual investors.

They account for a small percent of shareholders, between 5 percent and 10 percent, for the online behemoth.

Harrington said there are concerns Rekognition could open the company up to lawsuits.

In a letter last week, the companies told Amazon to stop expanding, developing and marketing it until it could demonstrate there was adequate fiduciary oversight.

They also want Amazon to place appropriate guidelines and policies in place to protect citizens, customers and stakeholders.

“We don’t know of any restrictions or parameters or policy decisions that Amazon made in going ahead and marketing this. We’re concerned about some serious privacy rights issues and also we’re concerned this may be litigious,” Harrington said.

It’s not clear how many law enforcement agencies have purchased the tool since its launch in late 2016 or since its update last fall, when Amazon added capabilities that allow it to identify people in videos and follow their movements almost instantly.

Privacy advocates are worried that it could have potentially dire consequences for minorities who are already arrested at disproportionate rates, immigrants who might be in the country illegally or political protesters, they said.

On Monday, the advocates against the product cited the dangers of blanket police surveillance in front of Amazon’s Spheres building.

The demonstration happened steps away from where young tech workers sat eating lunch and lounged on giant bean bags in a courtyard.

“We know what surveillance can do. Surveillance can kill people,” said Garry Owens of the Legacy of Equality, Leadership and Organizing.

Amazon previously noted that some agencies have used the program to find abducted people and amusement parks have used it to find lost children.

British broadcaster Sky News used Rekognition to help viewers identify celebrities at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last month.

More in Business

New health officer appointed for Clallam County

The Clallam County Board of Health appointed Dr. Allison… Continue reading

ON THE WATERFRONT: 15,000 tons of logs for Coos Bay, Ore.

EARLIER THIS WEEK the 113-foot tug Gene Dunlap brought an empty log… Continue reading

BUSINESS BRIEFS: New Habitat construction manager … and other items

Habit for Humanity of Clallam County has announced new… Continue reading

EYE ON BUSINESS: This week’s meetings

Luncheon meetings are usually Wednesdays at… Continue reading

PHOTO: Timely toss for Strait Slice in Port Angeles

Scott Sullivan, owner of The Strait Slice Pizza Co., tosses pizza dough… Continue reading

Ford recalls 2M trucks; seat belts can cause fires

Under pressure from U.S. safety regulators, Ford is recalling about… Continue reading

Open house for new Port Townsend therapist

Jessica Tartaro will hold an open house from noon… Continue reading

2 pics of cable innovator at terminal one
ON THE WATERFRONT: Wood chips loaded in Port Angeles

Tuesday, personnel loaded two Seaspan barges at the Port… Continue reading

EYE ON BUSINESS: This week’s meetings

Twice-monthly networking breakfasts are held… Continue reading

Oregon’s only heart transplant program ended

The only Oregon hospital to offer heart transplants is… Continue reading

Microsoft says give paid leave to employees

Microsoft will begin requiring its contractors to offer their U.S. employees paid… Continue reading