In the letter to Bezos, the ACLU argued that Rekognition could be improperly used by law enforcement authorities to target and track minorities, immigrants and political protesters. Amazon Rekognition is a technology that helps automate recognizing people, objects, and activities in video and photos based on inputs provided by the customer.
Amazon contends that it makes no sense to block emerging technologies exclusively on the fear of how they might be misused in future, pointing out that our "quality of life would be much worse" if we failed to capitalise on the potential benefits. In fact, the Rekognition page makes mention of the City of Orlando as one of its customers, but documents obtained by the ACLU paint a more detailed picture.
The documents have also revealed that Amazon has offered to connect Washington County Police with Amazon's other government customers interested in using Rekognition and a body camera manufacturer. But that is just a part of the services that Amazon has been providing to the county police in Washington.
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.
The ACLU, along with other concerned organizations, sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding that his company stop selling the technology to the government. "With Rekognition, Amazon delivers these risky surveillance powers directly to the government".
A systems analyst with the sheriff's office wrote he was, "hoping to expand our backend of images to every law enforcement agency in the metro Portland area". Despite all of this, Amazon imposes no meaningful restrictions on how governments can use Rekognition. Rekognition can find, identify, and track people in real time, and was recently used for a cute-yet-ethically-dubious "who's who?" broadcast of the recent royal wedding.More news: M&S reveals another year of falling profits
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Within a week of going live, the system was used to identify and arrest a suspect who stole more than $5,000 from local stores, he said, adding there were no leads before the system identified him. Researchers at Georgetown University estimate there are more than 130 million American adults in criminal facial recognition databases in the U.S.
'People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government, ' the letter said. As with other surveillance technologies, these systems are certain to be disproportionately aimed at minority communities. In a written statement, it pointed out that its visual analytics tools have a wide range of applications beyond policing, and that "o$3 ur quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology".
Amazon Web Services did not answer emailed questions about how many law enforcement agencies are using Rekognition, but in a written statement the company said it requires all of its customers to comply with the law and to be responsible in the use of its products.
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.
Documents obtained by the ACLU of Northern California through a records request have lifted the veil on Amazon's facial recognition project, dubbed Rekognition.
Facial recognition is a powerful tool, but will it ever be possible to utilize in an effective manner that doesn't get people worked up over privacy concerns?