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

'Recipe for authoritarianism': Amazon under fire for selling face-recognition software to police

But like many surveillance tools used by police, such as the StingRay developed by the Harris Corporation, information is hard to come by because departments are made to sign nondisclosure agreements before purchasing or licensing the technology. The service is advertised as a "deep learning-based image and video analysis", and it has some big names on its customer list, such as HERE.

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.
There, Rekognition project director Ranju Das told the crowd: "There are cameras all over the city".

Oregon's Washington County sheriff's office wants to use the system to scan some 300,000 booking photos from its jail that it has compiled since 2001, according to records obtained by the ACLU. "It not real-time surveillance". The Washington County Sheriff, for instance, and the City of Orlando have both been running Rekognition-powered systems since 2017, it's said. In particular, the ACLU is concerned that police would use these tools to target political groups or people who are otherwise vulnerable.

While Amazon suggests in its marketing materials that Rekognition can be used to track down "people of interest" in criminal cases, ACLU and dozens of pro-privacy groups argued in a letter (pdf) to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Tuesday that the product is "primed for abuse in the hands of governments" and poses a "grave threat" to marginalized groups and dissidents.

In New Zealand supermarkets giant Foodstuffs has defended its use of facial recognition technology to help combat shoplifters.

Records released by the ACLU show Amazon provided free consulting to Orlando to establish the pilot program.

Law enforcement agencies across the United States are ordering a different kind of product from Amazon - facial recognition. Despite all of this, Amazon imposes no meaningful restrictions on how governments can use Rekognition.

In an email statement to VentureBeat, Amazon says that it requires customers to "be responsible" when they use Amazon Web Services and Rekognition.

Pointing out that Amazon has publicly opposed secret government surveillance and that Bezos has supported First Amendment rights, the letter says, "Rekognition product runs counter to these values".

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

"Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely hard to undo", the ACLU said. "They have cameras all over the city". If police body cameras, for example, were outfitted with facial recognition, devices intended for officer transparency and accountability would further transform into surveillance machines aimed at the public. We are a subscriber to the stream, we analyze the video in real time, search against the collection of faces they have.

"People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government", the groups wrote in a letter to Amazon.

"In this political climate, to be clear, it's not a stretch of the imagination to see this being a tool used to round up immigrants, to target activists, and to surveil entire communities", ACLU of OR executive director David Rogers said. With this technology, police would be able to determine who attends protests. "By automating mass surveillance, facial recognition systems like Rekognition threaten this freedom".

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