Amazon's facial recognition software can track you in real time

Surveillance state? Amazon selling facial recognition technology to govt ‘threatens freedom

Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveal that Amazon has been working with governments and police departments to build up advanced surveillance systems in a number of counties and states.

Last year, the Police Department in Orlando, Fla. announced it would begin a pilot program relying on Amazon's technology to "use existing City resources to provide real-time detection and notification of persons-of-interest, further increasing public safety". Its impressive Rekognition technology is the ideal tool for government entities wishing to obliterate the idea of personal privacy.

"Washington County [Oregon] has since built a database of at least 300,000 mugshot photos to use in coordination with Rekognition. It automates mass surveillance, threatens people's freedom to live their private lives outside the government's gaze, and is primed to amplify bias and inequality in the criminal justice system". The federal government could use this facial recognition technology to continuously track immigrants as they embark on new lives. The application is able to analyze police body cameras and surveillance systems in real-time.

Two US police forces are among the customers of Amazon's facial recognition software, causing concern among civil liberties activists.

That could have potentially dire consequences for minorities who are already arrested at disproportionate rates, immigrants who may be in the country illegally or political protesters, they said.

The ACLU asked both Washington County and Orlando for records showing that the public had been consulted before the rollout of the technology, but no records were produced.

In a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the ACLU joined with 34 organizations, including the ACLU of Florida, in expressing "profound concerns" about the potential for Rekognition to be abused.

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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.

Amazon said in an emailed statement that it requires customers comply with the law, and if it learns that its services are being "abused by a customer", it suspends that customer's use of its technology. "Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely hard to undo".

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.

Rekognition is already being used by the Orlando Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR, according to documents the ACLU obtained under Freedom of Information requests. 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.

According to The Washington Post, law enforcement officials now utilizing this technology aren't breaking the bank to access it.

A 2016 study from Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology found that over 117 million American adults are included in facial recognition databases used by law enforcement agencies. The technology can be reportedly used for surveillance. "Imagine if customers couldn't buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes".

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