Amazon asked to stop selling facial recognition technology to police

Amazon is Discreetly Selling Facial Recognition Technology

Amazon is actively courting law-enforcement agencies to use a cloud-based facial-recognition service that can identify people in real time, the American Civil Liberties Union reported Tuesday, citing the documents obtained from two USA departments. According to Amazon, the Washington County Sheriff's Office has already used Rekognition to reduce suspect identification time from several days down to mere minutes. The New York Times' Nick Wingfield wrote about it, and joined Bill Radke in the studio to discuss its applications in policing, as well as the American attitude toward surveillance and privacy.

In email correspondence between Amazon and one customer, the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR, the department said it has roughly 300,000 images uploaded to Rekognition, most of which were from security cameras OR pictures provided by citizens.

ACLU has already joined forces with other civil rights groups asking Amazon to stop selling its surveillance technology to law enforcement agencies.

The ACLU cites Amazon video in which Ranju Das, general manager for Amazon Rekognition, says the programs are being used with Orlando's existing cameras throughout the city. The ACLU said that Washington County had built a database of 300,000 mugshot photos to use in coordination with Rekognition software.

The artificial intelligence-powered system can analyze faces and nearly immediately run them through larger databases featuring tens of millions of faces to produce a similar result.

Orlando is piloting the facial recognition technology to target suspected criminals in footage from the city's surveillance systems.

The Associated Press reported that the City of Orlando refused an interview request, but issued a statement regarding the use of Rekognition software. To date, facial recognition software has managed to generate high numbers of false positives, while only producing a handful of valid arrests.

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

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In addition to law enforcement, the Amazon software is being used by a number of companies including Pinterest and the Washington Post, according to Amazon. In what Orlando's police chief praises as a "first-of-its-kind public-private partnership", Amazon promised free consulting services to build a Rekognition "proof of concept" for the city. "People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government".

Amazon has dismissed concerns raised by civil liberties campaigners over its sharing of facial recognition technology with USA police forces, amidst concern that the technique could fuel growth of authoritarianism.

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.

Rekognition's ability to identify individuals through photos and video in real-time makes it a powerful tool for tracking people.

Amazon, which announced the tech in November 2016 for customers of its cloud computing platform Amazon Web Services, has publicly disclosed that Rekognition customers include the city of Orlando, Florida, as well as the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Oregon. "We analyze the video in real time [and] search against the collection of faces they have". With this technology, police would be able to determine who attends protests.

Amazon's statement added, "W$3 e require our customers to comply with the law and be responsible when using Amazon Rekognition".

Amazon is one of many companies selling artificial intelligence tools such as facial recognition and image-scanning to business clients.

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