At a surprise appearance following Amazon’s annual product launch yesterday, CEO and wealthiest human alive Jeff Bezos told reporters that his company is writing its own facial recognition laws.
This is no surprise. Digital rights activists have been warning that 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.
"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, "But this type of technology is uniquely dangerous. It 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. We know that members of Congress are currently drafting legislation related to facial recognition, 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."
Last month Fight for the Future launched our BanFacialRecognition.com campaign, along with an interactive map showing where in the US facial recognition surveillance is being used, and also where there are local and state efforts to ban it. Since then, 30+ organizations including MoveOn, Greenpeace, Daily Kos, Color of Change, and CAIR have endorsed that campaign. San Francisco, Somerville, MA, and Oakland, CA, recently became the first cities in the country to ban the technology. Berkeley, CA and Cambridge, MA are also considering bans, and bills to halt current use of the tech are moving in the Massachusetts, New York, California, and Michigan legislatures. In Congress, there is growing bipartisan agreement to address the issue, but it could easily stall under pressure from law enforcement and big tech.
Backlash to facial recognition continues to spread. This week, many of the world’s largest music festivals committed to not using the technology after Fight for the Future launched a campaign backed by prominent artists including Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. 2020 presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke have both echoed the call for a federal ban on law enforcement use of facial recognition. Sweden recently banned the use of facial recognition in schools, and lawmakers in the UK are considering hitting the breaks on the tech.
Fight for the Future, which is a non-profit that does not endorse candidates for office, opposes attempts by the tech industry and law enforcement to pressure Congress to pass an industry-friendly "regulatory framework" for facial recognition that would allow this dangerous technology to spread quickly with minimal restrictions intended to assuage public opposition. But we support narrower efforts to ban or restrict specifically egregious uses of this surveillance, such as a bill introduced recently to ban the use of facial recognition in public housing. For more on our position, read our op-ed in Buzzfeed News: "Don’t regulate facial recognition. Ban it."