Congressman calls out Amazon’s ‘performative’ facial-recognition moratorium

Sometimes, you just have to call BS.

That appears to be the thinking of California Congressman Jimmy Gomez, who on June 17 shared a letter addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding specifics on his company’s supposed year-long moratorium on providing its facial-recognition tools to police. Because when it comes to Amazon’s big June 10 announcement, sadly there is no there there. 

Lest we forget, earlier this month Amazon attempted to make waves by claiming it would cease providing Rekognition to police for a year. Importantly, as Mashable and Amazon critics pointed out at the time, the pledge was a half-measure troublingly lacking in specifics. 

Rep. Gomez, it would seem, agreed.

The congressman’s follow-up letter asked basic questions of the tech behemoth that, frankly, should have be answered in the company’s initial grab for headlines. There are several, and its worth listing them here to give you an idea as to how bereft in substance Amazon’s initial announcement actually was. 

[The] 102-word blog post announcement fails to specify whether Amazon will stop selling Rekognition to police departments during the moratorium; whether the company will stop the development of its facial recognition system during the moratorium; whether the moratorium would encompass both local and federal law enforcement agencies beyond the police, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); whether the moratorium applies to current contracts with law enforcement agencies; and whether Amazon plans to submit their technology to the  National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for testing before it resumes operations. 

And Rep. Gomez wasn’t done there. He noted that Amazon’s supposed desire for federal regulation on the sale and use of facial-recognition technology feats neatly in an ever-growing list of “performative” corporate gestures following the police killing of George Floyd

We reached out to Amazon, both for a response to Rep. Gomez’s letter and to find out if it intends to answer the questions he posed, but received no immediate response. When reached for comment following its light-on-details June 10 announcement, an Amazon spokesperson responded at the time simply, “We’re not saying anything further at this time.” 

SEE ALSO: Amazon reportedly facing new probes in California, Washington

Hopefully Amazon was saving up its clearly precious words so that it could better respond to an elected official like Rep. Gomez, but we’re not counting on it. 

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