Will Amazon's facial-recognition tech enable mass surveillance?

Will Amazon's facial-recognition tech enable mass surveillance?

According to its marketing materials, Rekognition is being marketed to governments and law enforcement, and documents obtained by the ACLU show it is now used by police in Orlando and Oregon's Washington County.

Using public records requests, ACLU's California chapter obtained more than a hundred pages of documents showing Amazon's work with law enforcement agencies in Orlando, Fla., and OR to deploy the technology, which Amazon calls "Rekognition".

Speaking at a recent developer conference in South Korea and calling Orlando a "launch partner", Ranju Das, director of Rekognition at Amazon, recently described how the city uses the service. One of of its more innocuous features is identifying celebrities in videos.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundations of California (ACLU) said Amazon's Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns.

The ACLU and more than two dozen other civil rights organizations called on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to stop selling face-recognition services to government agencies.

In emails between Amazon and Washington County employees, the company offers the expertise of the Rekognition product team, troubleshoots problems encountered by the county, and provides "best practices" advice on how to deploy the service.

In Washington County, Rekognition was put to work analyzing photos of inmates booked into the local jail, according to the documents.

These efforts aren't surprising in and of themselves, although Amazon's complicity in erecting a law enforcement surveillance structure certainly is. "And possibly even to all of OR and beyond". But facial recognition also has its flaws.

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Amazon Rekognition is also being used by companies such as C-SPAN, Pinterest, Spokeo and more.

"We know that putting this technology into the hands of already brutal and unaccountable law enforcement agencies places both democracy and dissidence at great risk", she added. "This would help us remove the free form that needs to be filled out by deputies and thus Dragon could become Dragn or Dragun or any other misspelling, and thus not allowing for searchablility that we need".

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The ACLU sounded an alarm on Rekognition past year when Washington County started boasting about the results it was getting from the software. "The authorized cameras are then streaming the data", he said.

In the records, Amazon also solicits feedback and ideas for "potential enhancements" to Rekognition's capabilities for governments. "It automates mass surveillance, threatens people's freedom to live their private lives outside the government's gaze, and is primed to amplify bias and inequality in the criminal justice system". More than 130 million Americans, many of whom have never committed a crime, are in state and federal facial recognition databases, according to the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law. The statement read: "Rekognition is a powerful surveillance system readily available to violate rights and target communities of color".

The statement said some agencies have used the program to find abducted people, and amusement parks have used it to find lost children.

Adopting a glass half-empty view in contrast the ACLU warns that the software guide reads like a "manual for authoritarian surveillance", warning that officers in OR now have access to a database of 300,000 mugshots - enabling them to cross reference people's faces for criminal records via their mobile phones.

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