Surveillance state? Amazon selling facial recognition technology to govt 'threatens freedom'

Surveillance state? Amazon selling facial recognition technology to govt 'threatens freedom'

Surveillance state? Amazon selling facial recognition technology to govt 'threatens freedom'

Analysis The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday expressed dismay that Amazon Web Services has been urging USA government agencies to use its Rekognition API for state-sponsored facial recognition.

The organizations sent a letter to Amazon after an ACLU investigation found Amazon had been working with a number of United States law enforcement agencies to deploy its artificial intelligence-powered Rekognition service.

Amazon's decision to market a powerful face recognition tool to police is alarming privacy advocates, who say the tech giant's reach could vastly accelerate a dystopian future in which camera-equipped officers can identify and track people in real time, whether they're involved in crimes or not.

The tool, called Rekognition, is already being used by at least one agency - the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR - to check photographs of unidentified suspects against a database of mug shots from the county jail, which is a common use of such technology around the country.

The argument: The ACLU and two dozen other civil rights organizations published an open letter addressed to Jeff Bezos asking Amazon to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement groups. The letter claims that the technology is "primed for abuse" in government hands and poses a "grave threat" to communities which are already unfairly targeted by law enforcement. "Like any of our AWS services, we require our customers to comply with the law and be responsible when using Amazon Rekognition".

Your first reaction to this might be to wonder why Amazon has facial recognition software in the first place - after all, it doesn't seem to be part of its core business model. Amazon has solicited feedback on new product features for law enforcement. The documents provided showed how Amazon provided product support and offered free consulting services to the government.

More news: Facebook to United Kingdom parliament: no Zuckerberg for you

The organization is anxious the technology will be incorporated into police body cameras and surveillance feeds to track protestors, immigrants, or anyone a city wishes to monitor.

The ACLU of Northern California is shining more light on the tech this week, however, after announcing that it had obtained documents shedding more light on the service it believes "raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns". "We are not putting a camera out on a street corner", a deputy told the AP.

The ACLU sounded an alarm on Rekognition a year ago when Washington County started boasting about the results it was getting from the software. Ever since its deployment in 2017, Washington County has built a database of at least 3,00,000 mugshot photos to be used in tandem with Amazon's face recognition technology. The ACLU cited this presentation in which an Amazon executive said Orlando officials "have cameras all over the city" that submit images that Rekognition analyzes in real time to track "persons of interest".

"When we find that AWS services are being abused by a customer, we suspend that customer's right to use our services", Amazon said in an emailed statement.

Using police body cameras as facial recognition devices would transform police into surveillance machines aimed at the public, it said.

The ACLU fears this kind of technology could be used for malicious purposes, allowing cities and police to surveil communities even without a specific reason to do so. But now Amazon and Orlando are taking it further, by using facial recognition to spot people in real time. Users with access to the service can hunt down "people of interest", it's said, in footage sourced from "cameras all over the city".

Related news