Published: Wed, May 23, 2018
Life&Culture | By Peggy Hughes

Amazon defends providing police facial recognition tech

Amazon defends providing police facial recognition tech

It's not clear how many law enforcement agencies have purchased the tool, called Rekognition, since its launch in late 2016 or since its update last fall, when Amazon added capabilities that allow it to identify people in videos and follow their movements nearly instantly.

"Once a risky surveillance system like this is turned against the public, the harm can't be undone", Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director for the ACLU of California, said in a statement. "Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely hard to undo".

However, the question can boil over into civil rights areas when, for example, images of a citizen being booked for suspicion of a crime are retained by law enforcement, despite their innocence.

A letter to Amazon chief Jeff Bezos was signed by groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Data for Black Lives, Freedom of the Press Foundation and Human Rights Watch. Whatever the reason may be, the result translates to police, using Amazon's AI-powered facial recognition system, to potentially track anyone - not just the suspects in a particular criminal case.

Amazon is one of many companies in the USA and elsewhere which deploy facial recognition for security and law enforcement over the concerns of civil liberties activists. This product poses a grave threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build. Amazon must act swiftly to stand up for civil rights and civil liberties, including those of its own customers, and take Rekognition off the table for governments.

Documents also suggest Amazon is looking to partner with body camera manufacturers to add its facial recognition tech.

The Rekognition artificial intelligence (AI) system is capable of scanning faces in real-time and matching them against a database.

This produces a unique numerical code that can then be linked with a matching code gleaned from a previous photograph. Police in OR and Florida have been using the system to help them solve crimes, but the ACLU argues that it's ripe for abuse. You may remember a few months ago that China seemed pretty proud of its facial recognition software, which was effectively catching wanted criminals in Zhengzhou. "The authorized cameras are then streaming the data ..." "Through the pilot, Orlando will utilize Amazon's Rekognition Video and Amazon Kinesis Video Streams technology in a way that will use existing city resources to provide real-time detection and notification of persons of interests, further increasing public safety, and operational efficiency opportunities for the City of Orlando and other cities across the nation". We also asked them about rules governing how the powerful surveillance system could be used and ensuring rights would be protected.

"People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government", the ACLU argues.

It may not come as a shock that Amazon is moving into the home automation and residential security market, but did you know the company also offers a facial recognition solution, and has for a year and a half now? The federal government could use this facial recognition technology to continuously track immigrants as they embark on new lives'. He did not respond to a request for comment for this article. The service is advertised as a "deep learning-based image and video analysis", and it has some big names on its customer list, such as HERE.

A 2016 study by Georgetown University researchers found that one in two United States adults, or 117 million people, appeared in a law enforcement facial recognition database, with most of those undisclosed and unregulated.

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