wnol.info June 23 2018

Amazon's facial recognition services draw surveillance concerns

June 23 2018, 04:44 | Irvin Gilbert

Amazon under fire for selling real-time face-recognition technology to police

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

Civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are concerned that low-priced facial recognition software marketed by online retail giant Amazon to law enforcement agencies could lead to chilling abuses, allowing police to track millions of people in real time.

Amazon's Rekognition technology provides accurate facial analysis and facial recognition. Its impressive Rekognition technology is the ideal tool for government entities wishing to obliterate the idea of personal privacy. The camera feeds are sent through Amazon Kinesis Video Streams to search the video in real time and return data based on what police are looking for - be it the location of a politician or a person of interest.

"People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government", said the letter, dated Tuesday. "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".

But privacy advocates have been concerned about expanding the use of facial recognition to body cameras worn by officers or safety and traffic cameras that monitor public areas, allowing police to identify and track people in real time.

In the USA, there are no laws that bar law enforcement from using real-time facial recognition, but the technology - and the use of artificial intelligence for surveillance purposes - remains controversial. However, the ACLU notes that Amazon is "marketing Rekognition for government surveillance". Additionally, Rekognition has access to only eight city-owned cameras. The ACLU asked the two police departments for details of any public consultations held before the system was rolled out and about any safeguards in place to prevent abuse, but the details were sketchy - in part because one of them had signed a non-disclosure agreement with Amazon.

But Talbot says their office has caught a number of people using Rekognition by identifying suspects using photos and video footage supplied by victims. The group released emails between the retailer and local law enforcement discussing the use of the facial-recognition service, dubbed "Rekognition".

In an email, a spokesperson for Amazon also rejected the ACLU's demands, saying that it suspends any customer's right to use services if the company discovers abuse.

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"Once a unsafe surveillance system like this is turned against the public, the harm can't be undone".

"If you take a person's photo, all it's doing is applying to a mathematical equation to a shape", he says.

The ACLU of Northern California is shining more light on the tech this week, however, after announcing that it had obtained documents shedding more light on the service it believes "raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns".

One police department now using Rekognition is Washington County, Oregon, to perform such tasks as recognizing jail booking photos then verifying them against actual video footage or photos of suspects involved in crimes.

The Orlando police department told NPR that its use of the technology was a "pilot program" and that it was following applicable laws. Already, they've done so with more than 30,000 mugshots. This isn't a case of an outside party making opportunistic use of an emerging technology. "Imagine if customers couldn't buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?"

There are no laws explicitly barring law enforcement from using real-time facial recognition, and the constitutionality has not been tested by higher courts.

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