ACLU tells AWS: Stop selling facial recognition tools to the government

Is Amazon a monopoly

A marketing presentation by Amazon's cloud-computing business indicated the Rekognition system can slash the time it takes to identify individuals in photos and video surveillance.

In China, facial recognition technology is already ubiquitous. Amazon deleted mentions of body cams from its site after the ACLU raised the issue. There are other known clients outside of law enforcement as well, as facial recognition technology has a wide range of possible uses.

This month, Ranju Das, a software development developer on the Rekognition project, told attendees at a developer conference in Seoul, South Korea that the technology could track the mayor of Orlando through public cameras around the city. "Cities might routinely track their own residents, whether they have reason to suspect criminal activity or not", the civil liberties group explained.

The letter is co-signed by a large number of organizations for civil rights, but it remains to be seen if their appeal will have any effect on Amazon's strategy for Rekognition.

It's not certain if Amazon will formally address the objections.

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.

The Orlando Police Department confirmed to Spectrum News 13 that it was piloting Amazon's Rekognition software and Amazon's Kinesis Video Streams for real-time video and image analysis.

The ACLU and a coalition of rights groups on Tuesday sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos warning of the threat that such surveillance technology poses in the hands of police.

"Once a unsafe surveillance system like this is turned against the public, the harm can't be undone".

Amazon's technology isn't that different from what face recognition companies are already selling to law enforcement agencies. Leaders of the ACLU are calling the facial recognition 'dangerous'.

The ACLU says, "People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government".

"Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology", the statement read. When we find that AWS services are being abused by a customer, we suspend that customer's right to use our services.

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 USA tech giant.

"These improvements allow deputies in the field to receive the response to searches in near real time", Sherriff's Office Analyst Chris Adzima said in a statement.

In the aftermath of the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, over the killing of Michael Brown, police departments and policy makers around the country hit upon a supposed panacea to racist policing and police brutality: body-worn cameras.

Orlando Police Department officials stress that it's just a test and the technology is not being used for investigative purposes. The marketing of Rekognition to law enforcement is still in its infancy, but he's anxious it could quickly become dominant, given Amazon's market clout as the world's leading cloud services company.

However, the question can boil over into civil rights areas when, for example, images of a citizen being booked for suspicion of a crime are retained by law enforcement, despite their innocence.

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