Amazon facial recognition software raises privacy concerns with the ACLU

Image Courtesy Reuters

Image Courtesy Reuters

"Amazon should never be in the business of aiding and abetting racial discrimination and xenophobia - but that's exactly what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is doing when he sells these loosely regulated facial recognition tools to local police departments".

She said that the technology has many useful purposes, and that customers have used it to find abducted people and amusement parks have used the program to find lost children.

For example, Rekognition can detect and index up to 100 faces in a single image, a feature that Amazon openly touts.

The solution, dubbed "Amazon Rekognition", has been thrust into the limelight after a blog by the ACLU called the facial recognition technology "powerful and unsafe".

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

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. "Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely hard to undo".

Critics have also raised concerns about the accuracy of face recognition systems, especially those used by police.

The software isn't used for real-time or mass surveillance, he said."We absolutely find US$6 to US$12 to be a smart investment in our community's safety", Mr Talbot said.

Amazon requires customers abide by the law and be responsible when using Rekognition, it added.

The ACLU released documents showing correspondence with police departments in Florida, Arizona and other states on Rekognition, which operated by the Amazon Web Services unit of the USA tech giant.

In fact, one use case was outlined by Rekognition's project director at a recent technology conference (as reported by The Verge), where they described how video feeds from surveillance cameras in Orlando could be fed into the software in order to identify and track persons of interest. Amazon even signed a secrecy agreement with a prominent law enforcement customer. The NDA was later cited by the county to "justify withholding documents" in response public records requests, the ACLU said.

The ACLU sent the open letter to Bezos knowing that the Amazon CEO was one of the first public figures to criticize Trump's Muslim ban previous year.

Civil rights organizations are pushing back against the technology.

Amazon Web Services contains and streams countless hours of video of content and could compare faces analyzed in streaming videos with those in its videos.

Facial recognition software works by matching real time images to a previous photograph of a person.

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.

The city says the cameras Amazon has access to are "extremely restricted and limited to only eight city-owned cameras".

The letter notes that the facial recognition system already is being used by law enforcement in Orlando and Oregon. The US army uses drones to target terrorists in countries like Afghanistan although the programme has been criticised because it has also led to death of civilians.

The organization is anxious the technology will be incorporated into police body cameras and surveillance feeds to track protestors, immigrants, or anyone a city wishes to monitor. Rekognition was released in late 2016, with the sheriff's office in Washington County, Oregon, as its first customers, according to the Associated Press.

"Amazon's Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns", the ACLU said today.

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