The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for tech giant Amazon to stop offering their "powerful and risky new facial recognition system" to governments and law enforcement. A spokesman for the Orlando Police Department said the department was testing Amazon's service but had no plans to use the technology to track the location of elected officials. Its impressive Rekognition technology is the ideal tool for government entities wishing to obliterate the idea of personal privacy.
Speaking at a recent developer conference in South Korea and calling Orlando a "launch partner", Ranju Das, director of Rekognition at Amazon, recently described how the city uses the service.
Then there's the FBI's FACE Services Unit, which attempts to match an initial photo against images in state and federal databases, but isn't quite automated facial recognition, or so the agency insists. "In over-policed communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it". In particular, the ACLU is concerned that police would use these tools to target political groups or people who are otherwise vulnerable.
Amazon is selling a product that the American Civil Liberties Union is calling too powerful, too risky and downright harmful to our society.
The ACLU sent the open letter to Bezos knowing that the Amazon CEO was one of the first public figures to criticize Trump's Muslim ban previous year. Promotional materials from Amazon recommend using the service with body cameras, which would make it easy for law enforcement to monitor public protests and historically disproportionally targeted groups like ethnic minorities and immigrants, the ACLU says.
A coalition of civil rights groups, in a letter released Tuesday, called on Amazon to stop selling the program to law enforcement because it could prop up surveillance of vulnerable communities.
Amazon's response is clear: if a client is using Rekognition in an unlawful or irresponsible manner, it will put a stop to it.
"Once a risky surveillance system like this is turned against the public, the harm can't be undone".
In a later statement, after NPR's story was first published, the department said the pilot was "limited to only 8 City-owned cameras" and a "handful" of officers who had volunteered to participate. As NPR reported two weeks ago, American police have generally held off, but there's new evidence that one police department - Orlando, Fla. - has made a decision to try it out.
The city of Orlando, Florida, as well as the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR, are among Amazon's Rekognition customers.
"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.
The enforcement agencies shelled $400 to get the data comprising 305,000 mugshot photos in the API and Amazon charges a meager amount of $6 per month for using it, making it cheaper than Netflix.
Amazon is teaming up with law enforcement agencies to deploy its new facial recognition technology. Law enforcement in California and Arizona have already shown an interest in using the technology - and it is hard to imagine that Bezos would heed the ACLU's warnings.
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.