Amazon's Face Recognition Technology Raises Fears Of 'Big Brother'

Joe Raedle via Getty Images

The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for tech giant Amazon to stop offering their "powerful and risky new facial recognition system" to governments and law enforcement.

Amazon has been selling a facial-recognition system to police, sparking fears that the technology will one day power mass surveillance.

The tech company has been advising the local government on how best to use facial recognition for policing, according to the documents, including giving a sneak peek at Amazon's roadmap for Amazon Web Services under a non-disclosure agreement.

According to those documents, both the City of Orlando and the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR have been customers of the service since 2017.

The ACLU, along with other concerned organizations, sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding that his company stop selling the technology to the government.

In the era of so-called predictive policing, technology such as this is only as good as the biases -or, rather, lack thereof-of those interpreting the data, as well as the programming itself. In Orlando, Amazon Reckognition is using footage rolls from cameras all over the city to search for people of interest for the county police. In an email to the AP, the Orlando Police Department said they are "not using the technology in an investigative capacity or in any public spaces at this time".

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.

It may be the NDAs discourage public discussion, but more likely the agencies acquiring the tech knew the public wouldn't be pleased with having their faces photographed, tracked, stored indefinitely, and compared to pictures stored in law enforcement databases. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California recently obtained documents that show just how closely Amazon is working with cops around the country to implement its product.

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Facial recognition software isn't new for law enforcement, which often relies on technology to help with investigations.

Using police body cameras as facial recognition devices would transform police into surveillance machines aimed at the public, it said.

Experts believe that facial recognition technology will soon overtake fingerprint technology as the most effective way to identify people.

"Powered by artificial intelligence, Rekognition can identify, track and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image", the ACLU said in a statement. Cities might routinely track their own residents, whether they have reason to suspect criminal activity or not. "When we find that AWS services are being abused by a customer, we suspend that customer's right to use our services", an AWS spokesperson said. In fact, the Rekognition page makes mention of the City of Orlando as one of its customers, but documents obtained by the ACLU paint a more detailed picture.

However, Amazon said quality of life would be "much worse today" if new technology was outlawed because some people would choose to abuse it.

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 has handed new technology that can identify faces in the crowd to law enforcement.

The ACLU's Mr Cagle said he believed Amazon was entering the surveillance industry without proper consideration about how this technology could be used in future. The statement read: "Rekognition is a powerful surveillance system readily available to violate rights and target communities of color".

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