Amazon to Keep Aiding Government’s Facial Recognition Surveillance

In January, I wrote about a then-upcoming vote by Amazon shareholders on a resolution calling for the company’s board of directors to “prohibit sales of facial recognition technology to government agencies 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.”

Here is an update. In May, in a vote of Amazon shareholders, a resolution to prevent the sales failed, receiving less than three percent of votes cast. Also, as noted in a Reuters report on the vote, a second proposal calling for the company to take the more limited step of studying how its Rekognition facial recognition technology harms civil rights and privacy also failed, receiving just 27.5 percent support.

The results of the shareholder vote are disheartening for people seeking to influence companies to stop enabling Big Brother surveillance.

No doubt about it, the United States government’s goal is to make surveillance ubiquitous. Meanwhile, companies like Amazon see a surveillance growth industry similar to and overlapping with military contractors in the military-industrial complex. It can be difficult to do the right thing when dollar signs are lighting up in your eyes.

Airports are one of the primary areas where government and its corporate accomplices are seeking to expand surveillance in America — including through using facial recognition technology. It makes sense. People have already become accustomed to being subjected to extensive privacy invasions at airports in the name of “security.”

Jason Kelley warned in an April Electronic Frontier Foundation article that privacy invasion is becoming increasingly prevalent at American airports. Airlines, as well as the United States government’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are expanding their use of facial recognition technology to track people at airports. Kelley explains that the goal of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), of which CBP and TSA are parts, is “to use facial recognition on 97 percent of departing air passengers within the next four years and 100 percent of all international passengers in the top 20 U.S. airports by 2021.”

While many people would rather not be subjected to the tracking technology, Kelley writes that airlines and government agencies are not being upfront about how to opt out of the surveillance or even whether the surveillance is taking place. Of course, the default should not be for the government to surveille people just because they happen to be in an airport or traveling. The default should be respecting people’s privacy.

Reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

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