Security advocates challenge facial recognition in policing

Seattle police officer wearing a video camera

After internal emails (pdf) published by the ACLU on Tuesday revealed that Amazon has been aggressively selling its facial recognition product to law enforcement agencies throughout the USA, privacy advocates and civil libertarians raised grave concerns that the retailer is effectively handing out a "user manual for authoritarian surveillance" that could be deployed by governments to track protesters, spy on immigrants and minorities, and crush dissent.

The City of Orlando Police Department has also used Rekognition, according to Amazon's website. Its impressive Rekognition technology is the flawless tool for government entities wishing to obliterate the idea of personal privacy.

Orlando has since deployed Rekognition to search for people in footage drawn from the city's video surveillance cameras, according to Amazon.

In Oregon, the tech was powered by a 300,000-person database of mug shots that powered a mobile app. Officers could use the app to cross reference people's faces with any criminal record. "It is hard to overstate Amazon's influence on whether the threats posed by facial recognition tools are unleashed in American communities". "In over-policed communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it", the group wrote in the letter. "Amazon requires that customers comply with the law and be responsible when they use AWS services", she said, referring to Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud software division that houses the facial recognition program.

'Police use of face recognition to continuously identify anyone on the street - without individualized suspicion - could chill our basic freedoms of expression and association, particularly when face recognition is used at political protests, ' the report said.

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

"Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology", an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

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In a separate petition, the ACLU states: "Facial recognition is not a neutral technology, no matter how Amazon spins this". In fact, at last year's re:Invent conference, the company highlighted its partnership with the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Oregon. " Law enforcement agencies in Orlando, Florida, and Washington County have praised the software".

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

Amazon has a real-time facial-recognition program, and Orlando Police are giving it a try.

A group led by the ACLU has sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressing concern about the online giant's facial recognition system. "Imagine if customers couldn't buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?" "Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely hard to undo".

Adzima also described ways law enforcement could use Rekognition even more broadly - for instance, identifying suspects by using the service on artist renditions of criminals, or sharing data with other law enforcement agencies.

After all, when an officer walks down the street, they are mentally doing the same work as this facial recognition software by keeping an eye out for known offenders or anyone that the police are now interested in speaking to.

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