ACLU Says Amazon Facial Recognition Technology May Be Abused

Coming to a street near you Facial recognition by the police via Amazon

A new facial recognition tool has been rolled out by Amazon. But civil rights groups are voicing concern

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

In a statement, Orlando police spokesman Sgt. Eduardo Bernal said OPD's use of Rekognition is "extremely restricted" - limited to eight city-owned cameras and using facial imaging only from a "handful" of officers who volunteered to test the technology. The Rekogniton software can identify "all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports". "In over-policed communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it".

"It makes them more efficient and better at fighting crime", Deputy Jeff Talbot of the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR said.

The program, called Rekognition, is sold though the online giant's Amazon Web Services division, and is now being used by police in Orlando, Florida and the sheriff's office in Washington County, Oregon.

Amazon's statement added, "W$3 e require our customers to comply with the law and be responsible when using Amazon Rekognition".

One police department now using Rekognition is Washington County, Oregon, to perform such tasks as recognizing jail booking photos then verifying them against actual video footage or photos of suspects involved in crimes.

In the aftermath of the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, over the killing of Michael Brown, police departments and policy makers around the country hit upon a supposed panacea to racist policing and police brutality: body-worn cameras. But now Amazon and Orlando are taking it further, by using facial recognition to spot people in real time. It allows to link already-present technology, as CCTV cam networks to the recognition cloud software.

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While it's clear from emails that the Washington County Sheriff's Office found Rekognition to be useful in helping to identify suspects, the ACLU raises questions about the software's impact on personal privacy. Authorised cameras are streaming the data to Kinesis video stream.... While some of the uses Amazon promoted for the product were merely voyeuristic - such as automatically detecting celebrities at the royal wedding - numerous use cases seemed specifically tailored for law enforcement.

The new service can identify, track and analyze people in real time, recognizing up to 100 people in a single image. Washington County has taken at least 300,000 mugshots and built a database to use with Rekognition.

"Particularly in the current political climate, we need to stop supercharged surveillance before it is used to track protesters, target immigrants, and spy on entire neighborhoods", she said.

Moreover Amazon sees that the main market for the "Rekognition" will be the governmental agencies use.

The privacy advocates' letter to Amazon followed public records requests from ACLU chapters in California, Oregon and Florida.

Orlando has since deployed Rekognition to search for people in footage drawn from the city's video surveillance cameras, according to Amazon. Now Amazon is offering police something similar for a fraction.

"We don't think that Amazon should be in the business of selling this powerful technology to governments when it knows that this will likely undermine civil rights and civil liberties of communities that it's launched in, particularly its own customers", said Shankar Narayan with the ACLU of Washington. "Amazon shouldn't be anywhere near it, and if we have anything to say about it, they will not be".

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