Today, nearly 50 civil rights, racial justice, and anti-surveillance groups sound the alarm on the harms resulting from Big Tech’s unfair and deceptive mass collection, use, and sharing of peoples’ data. In an open letter, the groups call on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to use its rulemaking authority to ban corporate use of facial surveillance technology, ban continuous surveillance in places of public accommodation, and stop industry-wide data abuse.
"Rulemaking is needed to stop widespread systematic surveillance, discrimination, lax security, tracking of individuals, and the sharing of data," the letter reads. "Addressing these abuses, which are widespread and generalized across the industry, fits within the FTC’s rulemaking authority, and the agency derives additional authority to protect against these abuses from the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act."
The letter focuses on Amazon as the perfect case study to showcase the dangers corporate surveillance poses to consumers and the public at large, especially Black and brown communities. It highlights the privacy and security threats of Amazon’s smart home ecosystem, deceptive use of facial recognition technology, and the tech giant’s ever-expanding partnerships with police departments in over 2,000 cities. The letter cites disturbing incidents including a man being killed by sheriff deputies in their response to a post on Amazon’s Neighbors App.
"Armed with that power, Amazon is in a position to abuse its dominance to the detriment of consumers, communities, and even bystanders who have no commercial relationship with it at all, such as those captured by their neighbors’ Ring cameras. As Amazon’s surveillance empire grows in size, so do the harms," say the groups in the letter.
The groups release this letter on the heels of major political developments indicating Congress and the Biden administration’s willingness to take on Big Tech. Members of Congress recently put forth bills intended to break up Big Tech and curtail their power. President Biden issued an executive order calling on the FTC to use rulemaking to address unfair surveillance and data practices. And incoming FTC Chair, Lina Khan, has demonstrated interest in the FTC using its authority to reign in abusive corporate powers.
"For years, Amazon and other Big Tech corporations have pretty much gotten away with anything when it comes to their data practices. Lack of legislation and regulation allowed these corporations to amass unheard of amounts of power that was then used to surveil us, record everything we do, track our whereabouts, and then shared with cops. Law enforcement doesn’t need to create its own nationwide warrantless surveillance network when they have Amazon to do it for them. Congress absolutely must pass legislation to address these issues, but regulatory agencies need to do their part too. People’s lives are at stake," said Evan Greer (she/her) Director of Fight for the Future. "For years now, the FTC has failed the public by abandoning their power and authority to address these dangerous surveillance and data practices. With incoming FTC Chair Lina Khan, we have a chair that cares about reigning in Big Tech. Any real effort toward this goal must address these corporation’s widespread use of surveillance and the resulting harms. Ultimately, if the FTC commissioners care about protecting anyone from Big Tech, creating rules to ban surveillance practices and stop data abuses must be a top priority."
The groups end the letter by doubling down on their call for the FTC to take immediate action and warning: "until the FTC acts, no one is safe."
The signing organizations include: Fight for the Future, Action Center on Race & the Economy, Athena, Center for Popular Democracy Action, Constitutional AllianceConsumer Federation of America, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Demand Progress Education Fund, Demos, Encode Justice, For Us Not Amazon, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California, Jobs With Justice, Just Futures Law, La ColectiVA, Liberation in a Generation, Line Break Media, Make the Road New Jersey, Media Freedom Foundation, MediaJustice, Mercy Investment Services, Inc., Movement Alliance Project, MPower Change, National Employment Law Project, New York Communities For Change, OLÉ, Open Markets Institute, Open MIC (Open Media & Information Companies Initiative), OVEC-Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Performing Arts Alliance, Philadelphia, Jobs With Justice, PowerSwitch Action formerly known as Partnership for Working Families, Presente.org, Project Censored, Public Citizen, Revolving Door Project, RootsAction.org, S.T.O.P. – Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, Secure Justice, Stand Up Nashville, SumOfUs, United for Respect, Warehouse Worker Resource Center, Warehouse Workers for Justice, Whistleblower & Source Protection Program at ExposeFacts, Woodhull Freedom Foundation, and X-Lab.