Amazon Rekognition makes leaving your house an invitation to surveillance

Amazon Rekognition makes leaving your house an invitation to surveillance

Amazon Rekognition makes leaving your house an invitation to surveillance

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.

The program, called Rekognition, is sold though the online giant's Amazon Web Services division, and is now being used by police in Orlando, Florida and the sheriff's office in Washington County, Oregon.

The tool, called Rekognition, is already being used by at least one agency - the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR - to check photographs of unidentified suspects against a database of mug shots from the county jail, which is a common use of such technology around the country.

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.

The ACLU expressed concern that facial recognition technology could be used to target political activists or immigrants, or to disproportionately surveil people of color in its letter and a press release.

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Facial recognition is a controversial technology. 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.

Public record documents obtained from two USA states reveal that Amazon has entered the surveillance market, where it's been silently advertising its facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies. In an email to the AP, the Orlando Police Department said they are "not using the technology in an investigative capacity or in any public spaces at this time".

The Washington County sheriff's department has a database with 300,000 mugshots that it could yoke to Amazon's Rekognition, as well as a mobile app for deputies.

It can identify anyone - anywhere - in real time.

Marketing materials and documents obtained by ACLU affiliates in three states reveal a product that can be readily used to violate civil liberties and civil rights.

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"People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government", ACLU attorney Matt Cagle writes in a post tied to the news.

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.
Leaders of the ACLU are calling the facial recognition 'dangerous'.

'Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. Rekognition face surveillance is now operating across Orlando in real-time, according to Amazon, allowing the company to search for "people of interest" as footage rolls in from "cameras all over the city". "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 wrote in a widely circulated statement. A spokesman for the Washington County Sheriff's office told the Times it was not using the technology to surveil citizens en masse but to assist in criminal investigations. Users with access to the service can hunt down "people of interest", it's said, in footage sourced from "cameras all over the city".

"If police are looking for an African-American suspect, they may miss even if that person is in their database - it may not find that person", she said.

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