Published: Wed, May 23, 2018
Sci-tech | By Carrie Guzman

Government use of Amazon facial recognition prompts warnings from civil rights groups

Government use of Amazon facial recognition prompts warnings from civil rights groups

A spokesperson for the Orlando Police Department said for the pilot program, the department is not using images of the public.

In a blog post past year, Amazon said a new feature let customers "identify people of interest against a collection of millions of faces in near real-time, enabling use cases such as timely and accurate crime prevention". The county later cited this NDA to justify withholding documents in response to the ACLU's public records request.

"It's about recognizing people, it's about tracking people, and then it's about doing this in real time, so that the law enforcement officers. can be then alerted in real time to events that are happening", he said.

Local police and the federal government have a history of surveilling social movements ― most notably COINTELPRO, a civil rights era ploy on the part of the FBI to stifle progressive organizations and black social movements.

"Seconds saved in the field can make the difference in saving a life", Chris Adzima, an analyst in the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR, said in the blog post.

A coalition of civil rights groups, in a letter released Tuesday, called on Amazon to stop selling the program to law enforcement because it could prop up surveillance of vulnerable communities.

"Amazon requires that customers comply with the law and be responsible when they use AWS services".

Existing customers include the city of Orlando and the Washington Country Sheriff's Office in OR, which has built a database of 300,000 mugshot photos to use with Rekognition.

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Amazon, meanwhile, is offering free consulting services to build a proof-of-concept implementation of Rekognition for Orlando police. But now Amazon and Orlando are taking it further, by using facial recognition to spot people in real time.

A chorus of voices led by The American Civil Liberties Union have emerged in opposition to the hi-tech tie-up, which sees the ecommerce giant share a user guide for its Rekognition software - a proprietary technology employing Amazon's cloud computing arm, Amazon Web Services.

But rather than worry about all that, the ACLU singled out AWS's Rekognition for the rights-violating potential of the tech, and for Amazon's encouragement of such uses.

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. "We analyze the video in real time [and] search against the collection of faces they have". "Rekognition Video detects persons even when the camera is in motion and, for each person, returns a bounding box and the face, along with face attributes and timestamps".

Currently, the Washington County Sheriff's Office is only using the booking photos from its own jail in the database of images used with the software.

According to the ACLU, some law enforcement agencies in California have shown interest in recognition technology. The documents [PDF] obtained by the ACLU show Amazon has been congratulated by local law enforcement officials for a "first-of-its-kind public-private partnership", thanks to its deployment efforts. She said that Amazon was contributing to these violations by making it easier to scan people's faces, repeatedly exposing them to surveillance.

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.

Generally, the technology can't be stopped and the total surveillance is imminent.

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