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23 May 2018, 09:09 | Franklin Nunez
'Recipe for authoritarianism': Amazon under fire for selling face-recognition software to police
After the attention, other law enforcement agencies in Oregon, Arizona and California began to reach to Washington County to learn more about how it was using Amazon's system, emails show.
The current version of the Rekognition website advertises the service as a drop-in solution to process image and video data to find missing persons, text in images, famous persons (celebrities) in submitted content, and "unsafe" content in user-submitted images and videos. The letter was paired with the results of Freedom of Information Act requests the ACLU filed in three states, revealing documents that show that the agencies that have been using the software so far are enjoying it, and are paying relatively little for it.
The ACLU released documents showing correspondence with police departments in Florida, Arizona and other states on Rekognition, which operated by the Amazon Web Services unit of the U.S. tech giant.
The documents in question highlight Washington County's database of 300,000 mug shot photos and a mobile app designed specifically for deputies to cross-reference faces.
On Tuesday, The American Civil Liberties Union along with more than twelve other civil rights organizations has asked Amazon to halt to the selling of Rekognition to law enforcement entities. "With Rekognition, Amazon delivers these unsafe surveillance powers directly to the government". It has even offered free consulting to agencies expressing an interest in Rekognition. Furthermore, this technology is quite cheap, with estimated costs for the two law enforcement agencies that have deployed it being placed at around a few tens of dollars per month.
But Amazon pushed back in an emailed statement about the program, saying that it had "many useful applications in the real world" and that the firm "requires that customers comply with the law and be responsible when they use" its products. Despite all of this, Amazon imposes no meaningful restrictions on how governments can use Rekognition.
The obvious concern is that it will be used by the authorities to keep track of citizens engaged in lawful protests and demonstrations and used to target undesirable elements, however those might be defined, with a consequent chilling effect on democratic rights. A spokesman for the Orlando Police Departmentsaid the department was testing Amazon's service but had no plans to use the technology to track the location of elected officials.
"Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology", the company's statement said. "They have cameras all over the city".
In a presentation from a developer conference in Seoul, South Korea, Amazon's Ranju Das said, "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". "Imagine if customers couldn't buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?"
Your first reaction to this might be to wonder why Amazon has facial recognition software in the first place - after all, it doesn't seem to be part of its core business model. "The ACLU might consider this the government getting in bed with big data", one Washington county employee wrote in an email.
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