Amazon under fire for selling real-time face-recognition technology to police

Amazon under fire for selling real-time face-recognition technology to police

Amazon under fire for selling real-time face-recognition technology to police

The American Civil Liberties Union is criticizing Amazon for selling what it calls "a powerful and risky new facial recognition system" to law-enforcement agencies around the United States that helps users identify people who appear in surveillance footage. The federal government could use this facial recognition technology to continuously track immigrants as they embark on new lives'. Its impressive Rekognition technology is the flawless tool for government entities wishing to obliterate the idea of personal privacy.

"People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government", said the letter, dated Tuesday. "In overpoliced communities of colour, it could effectively eliminate it".

The ACLU notes that Amazon's billing of the technology as able to track people of interest could haunt people who are already considered suspicious by the government, such as undocumented immigrants and black activists.

In the US, there are no laws that bar law enforcement from using real-time facial recognition, but the technology - and the use of artificial intelligence for surveillance purposes - remains controversial.

"Amazon's Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns", the ACLU said today.

The details about Amazon's program illustrate the sprawl of cutting-edge technologies deep into American society - often without public vetting or debate. "Amazon should not be in the business of providing surveillance systems like Rekognition to the government".

While Rekognition has been used by police in Washington County, Oregon to search for suspects for the past year and a half, according to Amazon, the newly-released documents reveal the extent to which mass surveillance programs are being developed with Amazon's cooperation.

In one email, an account manager for Amazon Web Services eagerly offered up his or her services to a Washington County, Oregon, employee: "I am the Account Manager for AWS covering Oregon, and I noticed that you were leveraging our new Rekognition service. Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely hard to undo". "The authorized cameras are then streaming the data", he said. In fact, the Rekognition page makes mention of the City of Orlando as one of its customers, but documents obtained by the ACLU paint a more detailed picture. The documents [PDF] obtained by the ACLU show Amazon has been congratulated by local law enforcement officials for a "first-of-its-kind public-private partnership", thanks to its deployment efforts.

The ACLU filed public records requests for Amazon's communications with Orlando and another Rekognition customer, the Washington County Sheriff's Office, near Portland, Ore. This isn't a case of an outside party making opportunistic use of an emerging technology.

Chris Adzima, the office's senior information systems analyst, told conference attendees how he uploaded around 300,000 mugshot images into the S3 cloud and indexed them with Rekognition.

What we learned from the records: for far less than the monthly cost of Amazon Prime, a law enforcement agency can build a face surveillance system.

The ACLU investigation found that Amazon has not been content to simply market and sell Rekognition to law enforcement agencies-it is also offering "company resources to help government agencies deploy" the tool. The Orlando Police Department is not using the technology in an investigative capacity or in any public spaces at this time.

Right now police departments in Orlando and OR are using the technology.

"Seconds saved in the field can make the difference in saving a life", Chris Adzima, an analyst in the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR, said in the blog post.

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