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

Well, demcractic-type government's do have a disadvantage when it comes to such things. Dictators and plutocrats can just open the window and point at someone and their head will roll. Governments that are held accountable by their citizens have to deal with firearms process, fair trials, and etc. And after that they still won't get to chop off anyone's head.

Anonymous

China also has public executions; do you want those, too?

Anonymous

Now that is a good point. Its obvious this technology might not be able to be stopped all together.
There should be heavy restrictions apossed to how its used.
We are already being watched 24/7. Goverment knows everything about all of us. No privacy what so ever.
Not liking whom they target. More injustice to follow.
Take a good look at the real crooks. The politicians and Amazon! We are paying for their wealth with our backs with zero gratitude in payment.
Theives! All of them!

Anonymous

Don't turn to China, a country with horrendous a civil rights record which uses technology like this to infringe on human rights, to make a point on why this technology is good.

Victim of Organ...

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

Washington County actually used my own camera against me by using a deleted image of 8 seconds to convict me for a crime, then officials destroyed my camera. Public record. In a double standard hypocrisy of law, they then violated the privacy of my former girlfriend and I.

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, the number one offender being some Prosecutors (Attorneys working for the state as DA), Judges, Police and Sheriffs Officials and last but not least Federal Agents.
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.
On May 8, 2018 in a zone that dropped its limit by 10 recently, I was captured on a speeding violation in SE PDX caught 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

Perhaps this type of technology is the downfall of man at some point in time. Most people will not care about being tracked by live video feeds by officials they trust, until it violates their privacy or falsely incriminates them. Others will be screwed under the name of justice and it will impact their lives permanently. This is how the system functions. After that their lives have forever changed for negative because the controllers exploited them for self serving purposes. Thereafter its TOO LATE.
Unless you know all the ramifications good and bad, you should not be so gullible.

Anonymous

And, switching the "c" in a word with a ",k" suggests Russian collusion.

Anonymous

While Amazon's plan for the earth is to make all business run through it, thereby controlling everything worth controlling, it seems like it is gambling to put this particular device in the hands of a party (maybe even a business) that could use it against Amazon. I hope Amazon has made a mistake.

Anonymous

I am not okay with this. Police NEVER stand up against corrupt police, so this should never be even considered - not with our current system. This is sought to meet quotas, not to keep anyone safe.

Anonymous

Technology is only as good as how it was designed, implemented and used. I wrote software in college that I never published or sold because of the sick people that would use it for all the wrong reasons. It really is in the hands of the user. The ACLU has a place in our society - but - they go too far at times.

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