Amazon Teams Up With Law Enforcement to Deploy Dangerous New Face Recognition Technology

Amazon is marketing Rekognition for government surveillance. According to its marketing materials, it views deployment by law enforcement agencies as a "common use case" for this technology. Among other features, the company's materials describe "person tracking" as an "easy and accurate" way to investigate and monitor people. Amazon says Rekognition can be used to identify "people of interest" raising the possibility that those labeled suspicious by governments -- such as undocumented immigrants or Black activists -- will be seen as fair game for Rekognition surveillance. It also says Rekognition can monitor "all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports" -- at a time when Americans are joining public protests at unprecedented levels.

Amazon's Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns. Today, the ACLU and a coalition of civil rights organizations demanded that Amazon stop allowing governments to use Rekognition. [...]

The documents also revealed that Amazon offered to connect Washington County with other Amazon customers interested in Rekognition -- as well as a body camera manufacturer. Indeed, Amazon's promotional materials previously recommended that law enforcement use Rekognition to identify people in police body camera footage. The company removed mention of police body cameras from its site after the ACLU raised concerns in discussions Amazon. That appears to be the extent of its response to our concerns; this and other profoundly troubling surveillance practices are still permissible under the company's policies.

With Rekognition, a government can now build a system to automate the identification and tracking of anyone. If police body cameras, for example, were outfitted with facial recognition, devices intended for officer transparency and accountability would further transform into surveillance machines aimed at the public. With this technology, police would be able to determine who attends protests. ICE could seek to continuously monitor immigrants as they embark on new lives. Cities might routinely track their own residents, whether they have reason to suspect criminal activity or not. As with other surveillance technologies, these systems are certain to be disproportionately aimed at minority communities. [...]

People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government. By automating mass surveillance, facial recognition systems like Rekognition threaten this freedom, posing a particular threat to communities already unjustly targeted in the current political climate. Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely difficult to undo.

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4 Responses:

  1. MattyJ says:

    Cue the "If you've got nothing to hide ..." crowd in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

    • E M says:

      And my usual canned reply to them is: "If I've got nothing to hide, then you've no cause to watch me."

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