Amazon Teams Up With Government to Deploy Dangerous New Facial Recognition Technology

Amazon, which got its start selling books and still bills itself as “Earth’s most customer-centric company,” has officially entered the surveillance business. 

The company has developed a powerful and dangerous new facial recognition system and is actively helping governments deploy it. Amazon calls the service “Rekognition.” 

Marketing materials and documents obtained by ACLU affiliates in three states reveal a product that can be readily used to violate civil liberties and civil rights. Powered by artificial intelligence, Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces, according to Amazon

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. 

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Tell Amazon to get out of the surveillance business

Amazon not only markets Rekognition as a law enforcement service, it is helping governments deploy it. Amazon lists the city of Orlando, Florida, and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon among its customers. Upon learning this, the ACLU Foundations of California coordinated with the ACLU of Oregon and the ACLU of Florida on public records requests to learn more. 

The documents we obtained indicate that the Washington County sheriff and the city of Orlando became Rekognition customers in 2017. Washington County has since built a database of at least 300,000 mugshot photos to use in coordination with Rekognition. It also built a mobile app for its deputies to quickly scan for a match against the county’s database by submitting images obtained from surveillance or other sources. 

Amazon is providing company resources to help government agencies deploy Rekognition. In emails between Amazon and Washington County employees, the company offers the expertise of the Rekognition product team, troubleshoots problems encountered by the county, and provides “best practices” advice on how to deploy the service. In what Orlando’s police chief praises as a “first-of-its-kind public-private partnership,” Amazon promised free consulting services to build a Rekognition “proof of concept” for the city. Rekognition face surveillance is now operating across Orlando in real-time, according to Amazon, allowing the company to search for “people of interest” as footage rolls in from “cameras all over the city.” 

In the records, Amazon also solicits feedback and ideas for “potential enhancements” to Rekognition’s capabilities for governments. Washington County even signed a non-disclosure agreement created by Amazon to get “insight into the Rekognition roadmap” and provide additional feedback about the product. The county later cited this NDA to justify withholding documents in response to the ACLU’s public records request. 

The documents also revealed that Amazon offered to connect Washington County with other Amazon government 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 with 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. 

Because of Rekognition’s capacity for abuse, we asked Washington County and Orlando for any records showing that their communities had been provided an opportunity to discuss the service before its acquisition. We also asked them about rules governing how the powerful surveillance system could be used and ensuring rights would be protected. Neither locality identified such records. In fact, Washington County began using Rekognition even as employees raised questions internally. In one email, a Washington County employee expressed the concern that the “ACLU might consider this the government getting in bed with big data.” That employee’s prediction was correct. 

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. 

If Rekognition is not reined in, its use is also certain to spread. The records we obtained show that law enforcement agencies in California and Arizona have contacted Washington County asking about Rekognition. So have multiplefusion centers,” which collect information about people for dissemination across agencies at the local and federal level. 

Amazon has publicly opposed secretive government surveillance. Its CEO, Jeff Bezos, has himself criticized Trump administration’s discriminatory Muslim ban. But actions speak louder than words, and Amazon’s efforts to deploy this technology run counter to its proclaimed values and risk harm to the company’s customers and their communities. 

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Anonymous

Spoken like a true mindless slave

Anonymous

This is just like the gun debate. Guns don't kill people. People kill people. And cameras don't violate civil rights, people violate civil rights. We can take this further....can openers don't open cans, people open cans. Ink pens don't write on paper, people write on paper. If we're going to officially blame tools for everything people do with them we've got the makings of a very crazy world.

Anonymous

You are a shrill

Victim of Organ...

Camera data or surveillance can and will be used against you, period.

I am a recent victim December 12, 2017, Washington County Officials used Fabricated Evidence and manipulated coercion to convict me, a innocent man for the alleged invasion of my girlfriends privacy while she lay consenting and naked beside me in bed. My discovery is such:

The objective of the state is to charge people for crimes. If it happens that a charge is initiated by false complaint, the state prosecution does not care as they make lots of money in the process of administering law, irrespective if the defendant is innocent. Many officials have no Morals, no Ethics and violate people's constitutional right to their protections without blinking an eye.
The biggest threatening problem people are not aware of is illegitimate authority, where the state employs too many criminals in the guise of law and justice. These people have the ultimate power to exploit their victims, often abusing their powers to the extreme. I personally have witnessed many officials to do so in law enforcement in all areas. I specify by experience with the number one offender being some Prosecutors (Attorneys working for the state as DA), Judges, Police and Sheriffs Officials and last but not least are Federal Agents also.
Misconduct or Incompetence are not the only problems, it is color of law violations of peoples rights, abuse and neglect of true justice and in theory what amounts to simple criminal deeds committed by government officials. Who holds corrupt officials accountable when they all are corrupted? Nobody! This is why America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, criminals in power convicting innocent persons for profit.

Washington County actually used my own camera against me to convict me for a crime, then officials destroyed it,

On May 8, 2018 in a zone that dropped its limit by 10 MPH recently, I was captured on a speeding violation in SE PDX on camera, my first and only OR ticket in 23 years.
Cameras will be used against YOU! My penalty so far is over $10, 862.50 plus $125 fine for going 41 MPH.

Anonymous

Various communities in Missouri have tried, and failed, to make use of "red-light cameras" to identify and pursue traffic law violators. I believe they were struck down because they were operated remotely and because there was no assurance (in that case) that the owner of the vehicle was the operator at the time of the violation. I wonder if that relates in any way to potential privacy violations. Certainly, this is not the same as inviting Amazon (Alexa) into your home but there are reasonable expectations of privacy in the domicile that Amazon has discounted.

Anonymous

The only way to stop terrorism and street crime is by surveillance. London uses this technology, has for years, and bombers are caught in hours instead of getting away with random killing of citizens. Local street crime was cut by a huge percentage in weeks. ALCU is way off the mark here. Kind of like when the Sierra Club blocked a Los Angeles freeway for years seriously hurting local traffic in L
A. !

Anonymous

Actually, the best way to stop crime in the 1st world would be to stop immigration, help people in their countries of origin-- both those most able to leave and those stuck there after the most able to leave have left-- and act upon advanced knowledge of intended wrong doing before and during those incidents (Parkland shooting). Our crime rates have fallen, now are on the rise-- and after Libya was ransacked and designated to hell on Earth by NATO, Clinton and Obama, and after several cities in the US claimed 'sanctuary' status to raise a certain voter base, etc. crime rates all across the so-called first world have risen. Meanwhile, the collective mind bleating in China continue unabated as they suck down Hollywood propaganda through big fat straws, as Hollywood's newest target demographic. They won't mind or protest Sesame, the mandated-by-2020 social media which will, just like a great Black Mirror dystopian episode, impact everything from what apartment they live in, to if they are able to access public transportation, to their credit scores and job outlook. The Chinese also won't mind their perpetual president's implementation of facial recognition. Meanwhile, in London people are already being imprisoned for thought crime (Britany Pettibone, Tommy Robinson, Martin Sellner)-- LONDON-- and we can all thank the banking elite who've bought up our resources, politicians, film, and media, and moguls like Besos who've bought up the Washington Post. If you think that once a certain population disappears justice will be forthcoming from these people and every other corner of your societies (I'm talking to you, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Europeans, Americans), you're high. Completely high. Once the population the begat the roots of Western society are gone, they'll take whatever remains of their culture with them. The whites causing the problems at the top are part of an elite few-- and yes, many of them belong to a dominant religion. This is where their cohesion arises from.

Anonymous

Actually, the best way to stop crime in the 1st world would be to stop immigration, help people in their countries of origin-- both those most able to leave and those stuck there after the most able to leave have left-- and act upon advanced knowledge of intended wrong doing before and during those incidents (Parkland shooting). Our crime rates have fallen, now are on the rise-- and after Libya was ransacked and designated to Hell-on-Earth by NATO, Clinton and Obama, and after several cities in the US claimed 'sanctuary' status to raise a certain voter base, etc. crime rates all across the so-called first world have risen. Meanwhile, the collective mind bleating in China continue unabated as they suck down Hollywood propaganda through big fat straws, as Hollywood's newest target demographic. They won't mind or protest Sesame, the mandated-by-2020 social media which will, just like a great Black Mirror dystopian episode, impact everything from what apartment they live in, to if they are able to access public transportation, to their credit scores and job outlook. The Chinese also won't mind their perpetual president's implementation of facial recognition. Meanwhile, in London people are already being imprisoned for thought crime (Britany Pettibone, Tommy Robinson, Martin Sellner)-- LONDON-- and we can all thank the banking elite who've bought up our resources, politicians, film, and media, and moguls like Besos who've bought up the Washington Post. If you think that once a certain population disappears justice will be forthcoming from these people and every other corner of your societies (I'm talking to you, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Europeans, Americans), you're high. Completely high. Once the population the begat the roots of Western society are gone, they'll take whatever remains of their culture with them. The whites causing the problems at the top are part of an elite few-- and yes, many of them belong to a dominant religion. This is where their cohesion arises from.

Anonymous

China also has an extensive surveillance system, capable of locating criminals within a few minutes. As a result they are far safer than our country is.

This technology is inevitable. ACLU should focus instead on supporting strong privacy laws so that the system is only used for specific crimes with good justifications.

Anonymous

As much as I agree with your final sentence, and as much as I agree that people in China may in many places be safer from private violent criminals, they are NOT safer from the government, and we are at sufficient risk from our own governments as it is.

But I also resent the ACLU trying to decide what private business should and shouldn't sell. Why not decry tape recorders and video cameras generally? This seems like fundraising sensationalism and going after Amazon because it is successful. Amazon is creepy in some ways and spectacular in some ways. So is the ACLU on both counts.

But your final sentence sums everything up. Allow its use for specific things with specific limitations and good justification. AND provide for independent oversight and auditiing and sufficiently painful legal remedies for its misuse.

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