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Amazon facial recognition software raises privacy concerns with the ACLU

23 May 2018

Amazon has been providing facial recognition tools to law enforcement agencies in OR and Orlando for only a few dollars a month, according to documents obtained by American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, paving the way for a rollout of technology that is causing concern among civil rights groups.

In a statement, Orlando police spokesman Sgt. Eduardo Bernal said OPD's use of Rekognition is "extremely restricted" - limited to eight city-owned cameras and using facial imaging only from a "handful" of officers who volunteered to test the technology. Its impressive Rekognition technology is the flawless tool for government entities wishing to obliterate the idea of personal privacy. Ever since its deployment in 2017, Washington County has built a database of at least 3,00,000 mugshot photos to be used in tandem with Amazon's face recognition technology.

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

Beyond its claim that facial recognition threatens freedom, particularly among minority communities, the ACLU contends that facial recognition algorithms are prone to bias.

The Orlando Police Department is one of the owners of Rekognition, which can identify and track people in real time. ICE could seek to continuously monitor immigrants as they embark on new lives. Last month, the agency adopted policies governing its use, noting that officers in the field could use real-time face recognition to identify suspects who were unwilling or unable to provide their own ID, or if someone's life was in danger.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundations of California (ACLU) said Amazon's Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns. She said that Amazon was contributing to these violations by making it easier to scan people's faces, repeatedly exposing them to surveillance. "Amazon should not be in the business of providing surveillance systems like Rekognition to the government".

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First unveiled in 2016, "Rekognition" was explicitly marketed by Amazon as a tool for "tracking people", and it has already been put to use by law enforcement agencies in Florida and Oregon.

"Once a unsafe surveillance system like this is turned against the public, the harm can't be undone", Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director for the ACLU of California, said in a statement on Tuesday. The footage could come from police body cameras and public and private cameras.

Existing customers include the city of Orlando and the Washington Country Sheriff's Office in OR, which has built a database of 300,000 mugshot photos to use with Rekognition. Already, they've done so with more than 30,000 mugshots. It is deemed that the technology could be used for arresting suspicious people and its fallacious nature can axe the right to privacy of the public. Company brochures describe use by law enforcement agencies as common case.

A department spokesperson sent the News Station a statement saying in part, "The Orlando Police Department is not using the technology in an investigative capacity or utilizing any images of members of the public for testing".

"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. "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".

The letter comes after the ACLU obtained new information about Amazon's efforts to help local law enforcement deploy Rekognition, an image recognition and analysis service.

Amazon facial recognition software raises privacy concerns with the ACLU