ACLU: Orlando police testing Amazon's 'supercharged surveillance' facial recognition system

'Recipe for authoritarianism': Amazon under fire for selling face-recognition software to police

Amazon under fire for selling real-time face-recognition technology to police

Amazon is teaming up with law enforcement agencies to deploy its new facial recognition technology.

According to its marketing materials, Rekognition is being marketed to governments and law enforcement, and documents obtained by the ACLU show it is now used by police in Orlando and Oregon's Washington County.

The concerns highlight the growing debate over facial-recognition systems and their potential role in crime-fighting.

These include tracking lost children and other missing persons as well as tracing crime suspects.

Amazon said in an emailed statement that it requires customers comply with the law, and if it learns that its services are being "abused by a customer", it suspends that customer's use of its technology. "Imagine if customers couldn't buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?" They could even involve building Rekognition software into the body cameras that police allegedly wear to increase transparency and public accountability (even though the cameras tend to mysteriously malfunction at inopportune moments).

But in Orlando, Florida, the police are able to run the facial recognition through the city's network of surveillance cameras, too.

"Activating a real-time facial recognition system, that can track people, if the technology is there, could be as simple as flipping a switch in some communities", Cagle says.

According to the ACLU, the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR and the city of Orlando, Florida are current customers using Amazons' Rekognition software.

But Amazon said "quality of life would be much worse" if technologies were blocked because of how they could be used by others.

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Amazon's response is clear: if a client is using Rekognition in an unlawful or irresponsible manner, it will put a stop to it.

That could have potentially dire consequences for minorities who are already arrested at disproportionate rates, immigrants who may be in the country illegally or political protesters, they said.

In its letter, the ACLU writes that Rekognition could have a chilling effect on how people act in society. In the case of police departments, this tool is being used to match people that may walk within range of a law enforcement cameras stationed within a city against a database of known criminals. AWS GovCloud would still exist even if the pitches to try specific cloud services became less focused on applications with privacy and civil rights implications. After the attention, other law enforcement agencies in Oregon, Arizona and California began to reach to Washington County to learn more about how it was using Amazon's system, emails show.

Amazon's technology isn't that different from what face recognition companies are already selling to law enforcement agencies. The outlet claims the Washington County Sheriff's office, in particular, only pays between $6 and $12 a month to use Rekognition.

In a video posted to YouTube by Amazon Web Services Korea, Amazon's Ranju Das called Orlando a "launch partner", demonstrating how the system works using what he described as an Orlando traffic camera.

This is exactly what the Washington County Sheriff in OR did.

"When powerful surveillance technologies are deployed it is hard and often impossible to undo the harms once those technologies are deployed in communities".

Deputy Jeff Talbot, public information officer for the Washington County Sheriff's Office, said the program was not operating in the shadows and had been the subject of several news local stories.

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