The documents show that at least some public employees raised concerns about the technology.
Law enforcement agencies are using Rekognition, Amazon’s facial recognition system, to identify people and track them in real time.
“We demand that Amazon stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country”, the groups wrote in the letter.
Amazon is one of many companies in the USA and elsewhere which deploy facial recognition for security and law enforcement over the concerns of civil liberties activists. “Through the pilot, Orlando will utilize Amazon’s Rekognition Video and Amazon Kinesis Video Streams technology in a way that will use existing city resources to provide real-time detection and notification of persons of interests, further increasing public safety, and operational efficiency opportunities for the City of Orlando and other cities across the nation. Because the service is so new, we are reaching out to customers to make sure they get all the support they need to succeed with their particular use case”.
Within a week of going live, the system was used to identify and arrest a suspect who stole more than $5,000 from local stores, he said, adding there were no leads before the system identified him.
At a conference in Seoul, Ranju Das, who is listed as the director of Rekognition on his LinkedIn profile, boasted about the capabilities of the panopticon created in the partnership with Orlando. In April, the office adopted policies governing its use, stipulating that officers could use real-time face recognition to ID suspects unwilling or unable to offer their own identify, or if someone’s life is in danger.
Amazon Rekognition was introduced in the year 2016 as a deep learning-based API that can identify “objects, people, text, scenes, and activities” upon providing a photo or video.
The software can recognize up to 100 people in a single image, using a private repository of images. “Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely hard to undo”, writes the ACLU.
Orlando Police Department officials stress that it’s just a test and the technology is not being used for investigative purposes. The coalition has even written a letter to Amazon founder Jeff Bezoz asking him to “take Rekognition off the table for governments”.
Oregon’s Washington County sheriff’s office wants to use the system to scan some 300,000 booking photos from its jail that it has compiled since 2001, according to records obtained by the ACLU. As NPR reported two weeks ago, American police have generally held off, but there’s new evidence that one police department – Orlando, Fla. – has made a decision to try it out. Amazon, for one, services the Central Intelligence Agency, and its AWS cloud platform is backed by Uncle Sam’s snoops.
Rekognition’s commercial customers include the image-sharing network Pinterest and the directory website Spokeo. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom”.
Harp says if it’s used under proper guidelines, the recognition system could be beneficial in solving crimes.
But the ACLU is anxious about who exactly those people of interest might be. Additionally, Rekognition has access to only eight city-owned cameras. More than two dozen organisations signed it, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Human Rights Watch.
Some of the documents obtained by the ACLU show the user interface for the facial recognition software.