Law enforcement agencies have a new partner: Amazon
Tuesday, July 03, 2018
Amazon has made its entry into the surveillance business with a facial recognition system, Rekognition. The product is geared towards law enforcement use, and has already been used in select police departments around the country.
The AI-based program can track, identify and analyze people in real-time. It is powerful enough to identify up to 100 people in a single image and scan the information quickly against databases.
Some are calling it a "first-of-its-kind public-private partnership."
The company’s marketing statements reveal that the product can be used for government surveillance. The Amazon team offers resources and support to help in the deployment of the program.
For example, Washington County, Oregon, built a database of at least 300,000 mugshot photos. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Orlando are listed as its first customers. The latter, however, dropped out amidst immense backlash from the press and public.
Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union are crying foul. They believe that this product violates civil liberties.
While it can help the police to track people committing crimes, it can also muddy the waters by identifying innocent citizens like protesters. Along with the privacy threat to customers, detractors are also concerned about its misuse by foreign governments.
In addressing the technology, Amazon removed the mention of police body cameras from its site. Police body cameras are intended for officer transparency and accountability. Integrating them with a facial recognition system stands to transform them into surveillance machines aimed at the public.
However, the tragic shooting at Maryland’s Capital Gazette shows us that law enforcement work and new technologies go hand-in-hand.
The shooter, Jarrod Ramos, was identified within a short time through the use of facial recognition software. He has a history of criminal harassment and had long nurtured a grudge against the newspaper.
Amazon is not the only tech company to come under scrutiny for its work with the government and law enforcement.
Earlier this year, Google came under fire for a Pentagon project called Project Maven. The company used image recognition to enhance the operations of military drones.
Microsoft’s work with ICE came under fierce criticism as well. Microsoft’s Azure cloud services offer accelerated facial recognition and identification capabilities.
The company has released an official statement that it is not involved with projects that separate children from their families at the border. It may not have direct involvement, but the technology, like Amazon’s, can aid in this process. It is something to worry about.
Also, Facebook is being sued for allegedly misusing facial data and violating Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act.
Despite the denials, the relationships between tech companies and law enforcement agencies are a serious cause for concern for many.
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