Police use of Amazon's face-recognition service draws privacy warnings

May 23, 2018, 20:13
Police use of Amazon's face-recognition service draws privacy warnings

The North Carolina Civil Liberties Union has obtained documents that show Amazon has been almost giving away facial recognition tools to police departments in OR and Orlando in an effort to essentially beta test the tools, which live in the cloud via Amazon Web Services.

On its website, Amazon pointed out that Rekognition, which uses computer vision technology to identify people and objects, can be used to locate missing persons or filter explicit content in data apps and social media. 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.

The Orlando Police Department confirmed to Spectrum News 13 that it was piloting Amazon's Rekognition software and Amazon's Kinesis Video Streams for real-time video and image analysis.

The argument: The ACLU and two dozen other civil rights organizations published an open letter addressed to Jeff Bezos asking Amazon to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement groups.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department just outside Portland, Oregon, meanwhile, thinks the software is a great deal.

"Even though our software is being used to identify persons of interest from images provided to the [Sheriff's Office], the perception might be that we are constantly checking faces from everything, kind of a Big Brother vibe", a county employee whose name was redacted wrote t0 Amazon.

It seems China isn't the only country using facial recognition technologies to track down criminal suspects.

Orlando has the ability to identify faces in real-time via a network of cameras located across the city.

Pak'nSave supermarkets in Kaitaia, Porirua, Upper Hutt and on West Auckland's Lincoln Rd told the Herald they do not use facial recognition technology. He pointed out that jail booking photos are already public, and that the software simply allows officers to scan them instantaneously and in real-time, and compare them against footage of actual suspects, which is a valuable contribution to public safety. Company brochures describe use by law enforcement agencies as common case.

Right now police departments in Orlando and OR are using the technology.

"People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government", the letter also reads.

Amazon Web Services did not answer emailed questions about how many law enforcement agencies are using Rekognition, but in a written statement the company said it requires all of its customers to comply with the law and to be responsible in the use of its products.

But despite civil rights concerns, the use of Rekognition looks set to spread.

Amazon's promotional materials previously recommended law enforcement use Rekognition to identify people in police body camera footage, the ACLU said in a post. In a statement Amazon retorted: "Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology", Amazon said in a statement. "When we find that AWS services are being abused by a customer, we suspend that customer's right to use our services".

ACLU is increasingly anxious about the Amazon's "Rekognition" which is capable to work in real time and to recognize and identify hundred people on a single CCTV frame. By automating mass surveillance, facial recognition systems like Rekognition threaten this freedom, posing a particular threat to communities already unjustly targeted in the current political climate.

Documents also suggest Amazon is looking to partner with body camera manufacturers to add its facial recognition tech.

"Police would be able to determine who attends protests". "We analyze the video in real time [and] search against the collection of faces they have".

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