Amazon draws fire for selling face recognition to law enforcement

Alfred Osborne
May 23, 2018

Deputy Jeff Talbot, a spokesman for the Washington County Sheriff's Office, said Amazon's facial recognition system was not being used for mass surveillance by the office. Law enforcement in California and Arizona have already shown an interest in using the technology - and it is hard to imagine that Bezos would heed the ACLU's warnings.

In most cases, Amazon charged as little as $400 for setup and "just a few dollars" each month thereafter.

In the past, police departments had to pay tens of thousands of dollars for facial recognition systems, provided by traditional vendors such as NEC.

Older versions of the Amazon Rekognition website advertised the service as a tool that law enforcement agencies could use to identify persons of interest by feeding police body cam footage into the Rekognition API.

The letter comes after the ACLU obtained new information about Amazon's efforts to help local law enforcement deploy Rekognition, an image recognition and analysis service. "When analyzing video, you can also identify specific activities happening in the frame, such as "delivering a package" or 'playing soccer'". In a presentation from a developer conference in Seoul, South Korea, Amazon's Ranju Das said, "It's about recognizing people, it's about tracking people, and then it's about doing this in real time, so that the law enforcement officers. can be then alerted in real time to events that are happening".

"Access for Amazon for this pilot is extremely restricted and limited to only eight city-owned cameras only - three city-owned IRIS cameras and five city-owned facility security cameras", Bernal said.

In a statement, Amazon said it "requires that customers comply with the law and be responsible" when using its services. As a technology, Amazon Rekognition has many useful applications in the real world (e.g., various agencies have used Rekognition to find abducted people, amusement parks use Rekognition to find lost children, the royal wedding that just occurred this past weekend used Rekognition to identify wedding attendees, etc.).

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According to the documents, Amazon asked the county to tout its experience with Rekognition to other public sector customers, including a manufacturer of body cameras.

It seems China isn't the only country using facial recognition technologies to track down criminal suspects.

Matt Cagle of the ACLU of Northern California says he's disturbed by what he sees as a lack of transparency and public engagement, as police and tech companies work together to bring this new tool to American streets.

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. The technology can be reportedly used for surveillance.

A smart surveillance system (pictured) that can scan 2 billion faces within seconds has been revealed in China. Leaders of the ACLU are calling the facial recognition 'dangerous'.

In a separate petition, the ACLU states: "Facial recognition is not a neutral technology, no matter how Amazon spins this". Some of those databases are managed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Next Generation Identification program, details of which weren't disclosed to the public until five years after its launch in 2010.

'Once a unsafe surveillance system like this is turned against the public, the harm can't be undone'. The camera feeds are sent through Amazon Kinesis Video Streams to search the video in real time and return data based on what police are looking for - be it the location of a politician or a person of interest.

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