ACLU tells Amazon to stop selling facial recognition tech to police

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

USA civil liberties groups on Tuesday called on Amazon.com Inc to stop offering facial recognition services to governments, warning that the software could be used to target immigrants and people of colour unfairly.

Using public records requests, ACLU's California chapter obtained more than a hundred pages of documents showing Amazon's work with law enforcement agencies in Orlando, Fla., and OR to deploy the technology, which Amazon calls "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.

Rekognition, despite being cheaper than competing systems from NEC and other traditional vendors, is superior in several respects.

In fact, one use case was outlined by Rekognition's project director at a recent technology conference (as reported by The Verge), where they described how video feeds from surveillance cameras in Orlando could be fed into the software in order to identify and track persons of interest.

The program can also be used to identify celebrities and to analyze emotions from facial expressions for retail stores.

"[Amazon Rekognition] is continually trained on new data to expand its ability to recognize objects, scenes, and activities to improve its ability to accurately recognize", Amazon says.

The ACLU fears this kind of technology could be used for malicious purposes, allowing cities and police to surveil communities even without a specific reason to do so.

"City of Orlando is a launch partner of ours", Das said.

Amazon.com Inc. drew the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday over a facial-recognition system offered to law-enforcement agencies that the advocacy group says can be used to violate civil rights.

In a response to the New York Times, a spokesperson for Amazon Web Services said the technology is not specifically meant for law enforcement, and that, as with all of the company's services, A.W.S. required customers to comply with the law and to be responsible when using it.

Amazon Rekognition is based on the scalable deep learning technology developed by Amazon's computer vision scientists to analyse billions of images and videos daily. For example, if the customer provided images of a chair, Rekognition could help find other chair images in a library of photos uploaded by the customer. His department uses Amazon's Rekognition to scan faces in photos of suspects taken by deputies in the field.

That business already includes work with the city of Orlando, Florida, and the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR, according to the ACLU's Northern California chapter.

Do you think it's okay for a police force to use facial recognition technology on people without their consent?

Experts believe that facial recognition technology will soon overtake fingerprint technology as the most effective way to identify people. Leaders of the ACLU are calling the facial recognition 'dangerous'.

Then there's the issue of privacy.

Research from Joy Buolamwini of M.I.T. Media Lab found that three AI-powered facial recognition systems - Microsoft, IBM, and Face++ - identified men more accurately than women and performed better on lighter-skinned faces than those with dark skin despite having fairly high accuracy overall.

"Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely hard to undo", the ACLU said.

"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.

Update at 7 p.m.

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