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Amazon's plan to install surveillance cameras in delivery vans drives lawmaker backlash

Labor showdown between Amazon, Alabama workers
Labor showdown between Amazon, Alabama worker... 03:56

Amazon's plan to put surveillance cameras in its fleet of delivery vans is drawing backlash in the U.S. Senate, where five senators accused the company of "implementing a worker surveillance infrastructure that infringes on your workers' privacy" according to a letter released this week.

The missive asks Amazon to promise it will not capture footage of members of the public without permission and that the company "will protect against potential new safety hazards stemming from increased worker surveillance." It also asks Amazon to lay out whether it will use facial-recognition software with the cameras, whether it will share footage with law enforcement and whether drivers can opt out of being recorded. 

Democrats Ed Markey, Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren and Independent Bernie Sanders signed the letter. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CBS News.

The e-commerce juggernaut has invested heavily in building up its own delivery network, including ordering 100,000 electric delivery vans. Last month, The Information reported that Amazon planned to equip those vans with AI-powered cameras that record inside and outside the vehicle and issue commands to drivers.

The system, dubbed Driveri and developed by tech startup Netradyne, records video at all times, according to an Amazon video. However, it only uploads the footage if it detects certain actions, like speeding, hard braking or a driver appearing "drowsy." For some behaviors, the system issues verbal commands, such as "please slow down" or "distracted driving."

Amazon pitches the move as a safety measure: Its video notes that camera system alerts can reduce collisions and cites several examples in which camera footage was used to clear Amazon drivers of wrongdoing in car crashes.

However, the plan raised concerns among privacy advocates. The cameras could potentially record hundreds or thousands of people without their knowledge or consent, for instance. 

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Ring, Amazon's doorbell camera system, has been criticized for normalizing constant surveillance in neighborhoods, but Netradyne's cameras, strapped to vans that travel many miles in a day, take that up to a new level.

"Amazon is building a surveillance empire that threatens our most basic rights," Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement, calling the Netradyne partnership "the largest expansion of corporate surveillance in history."

"This will just exacerbate Amazon's unsafe and discriminatory working conditions for drivers –– and it will mean that Amazon delivery vehicles will be constantly surveilling our neighborhoods and communities," Greer said.

The five senators echoed those concerns in their letter to Amazon: "As drivers and people go about their daily lives, these cameras will likely capture an enormous amount of video footage without their knowledge or permission. Turning Amazon's increasingly prevalent delivery vehicles into roaming video recording devices could dramatically decrease Americans' ability to work, move, and assemble in public without being surveilled," they wrote.

What's more, the cameras are likely to make drivers less safe, since the constant surveillance would create even more pressure to speed up routes, the senators argued. Amazon already exerts significant pressure on drivers to work quickly and meet quotas, leading some to take shortcuts — such as not wearing a seat belt — to save time, Vice reported recently.

In the Driveri system, "seat belt compliance" is one of 16 triggers that result in recorded footage being uploaded.

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