Police use of Amazon's facial recognition software alarms civil liberties group

'Recipe for authoritarianism': Amazon under fire for selling face-recognition software to police

The program is called 'Rekognition.' According to Amazon, the technology has already been used to find abducted people, lost children at amusement parks and it was just used at the Royal Wedding in Windsor to identify guests.

A spokesman for the Orlando Police Department said the department was testing Amazon's service but had no plans to use the technology to track the location of elected officials.

But Talbot says their office has caught a number of people using Rekognition by identifying suspects using photos and video footage supplied by victims.

In a statement, Amazon said it "requires that customers comply with the law and be responsible" when using its services. "I am hoping to expand our backend of images to every law enforcement agency in the metro Portland area". This trend has also raised concerns among ACLU and other human rights groups who fear that this technology, once deployed on a mass scale, will be abused by the law enforcement agencies.

Last year, the Police Department in Orlando, Fla. announced it would begin a pilot program relying on Amazon's technology to "use existing City resources to provide real-time detection and notification of persons-of-interest, further increasing public safety". By publicising the software, some could read an implicitly menacing message to dissidents: if we can watch criminals, we can watch you.

"Once a unsafe 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 on Tuesday.

Amazon, Google, and Microsoft all pitch assorted artificially intelligent image, facial, and data analysis services to paying customers in both the public and private sector, to say nothing of the other vendors that solicit government IT business for hosted or on-premises products. "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".

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"We demand that Amazon stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country", the groups wrote in the letter.

Nonetheless, documents obtained by the ACLU show that Amazon continued to privately market Rekognition as a surveillance solution to law enforcement, with a primer on its facial recognition system.

In this video, Amazon's Ranju Das demonstrates real-time facial recognition to an audience. But among the few dissenters was Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice and a leader in the Black Lives Matter network, who warned early and often that the cameras could become tools of surveillance against people of color because "body-worn cameras don't watch the police, they watch the community being policed, people like me".

The most controversial use of Amazon Rekognition is by law enforcement.

"Seconds saved in the field can make the difference in saving a life", Chris Adzima, an analyst in the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR, said in the blog post. "As a technology, Amazon Rekognition has many useful applications in the real world", the company wrote in a statement to TechCrunch.

However, Amazon said quality of life would be "much worse today" if new technology was outlawed because some people would choose to abuse it. Users with access to the service can hunt down "people of interest", it's said, in footage sourced from "cameras all over the city".

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