Amazon is working with law enforcement officials to deploy facial recognition technology

Amazon’s facial recognition is now aiding US law enforcement

Credit Nicole Gray

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

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.

However, the ACLU is anxious the same technology could facilitate a creepy surveillance state.

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

According to the ACLU, the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR and the city of Orlando, Florida are current customers using Amazons' Rekognition software. The software less accurately identifies black people even though they are overrepresented in the databases. Chris Adzima, a systems analyst in the office, told Amazon officials that he fed about 300,000 images from the county's mug shot database into Amazon's system.

The city is stressing that, right now, it is only using "facial imagining for a handful of Orlando police officers who volunteered and agreed to participate in the test pilot".

Amazon has dismissed concerns raised by civil liberties campaigners over its sharing of facial recognition technology with United States police forces, amidst concern that the technique could fuel growth of authoritarianism.

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.

While police might be able to videotape public demonstrations, face recognition is not merely an extension of photography but a biometric measurement - more akin to police walking through a demonstration and demanding identification from everyone there, she said. The federal government could use this facial recognition technology to continuously track immigrants as they embark on new lives'. "Cities might routinely track their own residents, whether they have reason to suspect criminal activity or not", the civil liberties group explained. But its vast reach and its interest in recruiting more police departments - at extremely low cost - are troubling, said Clare Garvie, an associate at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University Law Center. The ACLU specifically asked for any evidence that the public had been given an opportunity to discuss the use of this technology before its deployment, but no such evidence was provided. The Washington County Sheriff, for instance, and the City of Orlando have both been running Rekognition-powered systems since 2017, it's said. Additionally, the letter highlights a lack of oversight of how technology like this is being used.

"As advertised, Rekognition is a powerful surveillance system readily available to violate rights and target communities of color", an ACLU-led coalition said in a letter on Tuesday to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, according to CBS News.

In an email statement to VentureBeat, Amazon says that it requires customers to "be responsible" when they use Amazon Web Services and Rekognition. "Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely hard to undo", writes the ACLU.

The letter is co-signed by a large number of organizations for civil rights, but it remains to be seen if their appeal will have any effect on Amazon's strategy for Rekognition.

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