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Amazon helps law enforcement with facial recognition technology

23 May 2018

Amazon and the county of Washington, Oregon, have a cozy relationship revolving around the use of Amazon's facial recognition technology for policing, according to documents released today (May 22) by the American Civil Liberties Union (pdf).

'Police use of face recognition to continuously identify anyone on the street - without individualized suspicion - could chill our basic freedoms of expression and association, particularly when face recognition is used at political protests, ' the report said.

In a blog post previous year, Amazon said a new feature let customers "identify people of interest against a collection of millions of faces in near real-time, enabling use cases such as timely and accurate crime prevention". The Rekogniton software can identify "all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports". Its uses go from the well-meaning (identification of lost children in amusement parks) to the benign (identifying guests at the royal wedding), but unsurprisingly its use in police surveillance isn't something that appears prominently in customer-facing marketing literature - though it is in there.

"Seconds saved in the field can make the difference in saving a life", Chris Adzima, an analyst in the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR, said in the blog post.

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At the time, they noticed two USA law enforcement agencies providing testimonials on the Amazon Rekognition website - the Orlando, Florida Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Oregon. Axon, the maker of Taser electroshock weapons and the wearable body cameras for police, has voiced interest in pursuing face recognition for its body-worn cameras, prompting a similar backlash from civil rights groups. "At this time in the pilot, as it is still very early on in this process, we have no data that supports or does not support that the Rekognition technology works".

Rekognition is image recognition technology capable of discerning everything from inanimate objects to faces that Amazon launched in November of 2016. Already, they've done so with more than 30,000 mugshots.

A recent House oversight committee hearing on facial recognition technologies revealed that the algorithms used to identify matches are wrong about 15 percent of the time, and evidence suggests that those algorithms are susceptible to racial biases. "The authorized cameras are then streaming the data ..."

The ACLU raises concerns about future abuse of such systems, for other purposes than looking for suspected criminals, and worries that Amazon's name, brand and reputation may help spread such systems to more state agencies and countries across the world.

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Orlando has since deployed Rekognition to search for people in footage drawn from the city's video surveillance cameras, according to Amazon.

Currently, the Washington County Sheriff's Office is only using the booking photos from its own jail in the database of images used with the software. "Amazon should not be in the business of providing surveillance systems like Rekognition to the government".

Generally, the technology can't be stopped and the total surveillance is imminent.

"Access for Amazon for this pilot is extremely restricted and limited to only eight city-owned cameras only - three city-owned IRIS cameras and five city-owned facility security cameras", Bernal said.

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At a conference in Seoul, Ranju Das, who is listed as the director of Rekognition on his LinkedIn profile, boasted about the capabilities of the panopticon created in the partnership with Orlando.

Amazon helps law enforcement with facial recognition technology