Amazon is actively courting law-enforcement agencies to use a cloud-based facial-recognition service that can identify people in real time, the American Civil Liberties Union reported Tuesday, citing the documents obtained from two USA departments.
In a statement provided to the New York Times, the Washington County Sheriff's said that it wasn't using Amazon's facial recognition system for real-time tracking or with footage from body cameras - only to identify suspects in criminal investigations.
A spokesman for the Orlando Police Department said the department was testing Amazon's service but had no plans to use the technology to track the location of elected officials.
The ACLU, along with dozens of other groups nationwide, just sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding that the company stop providing the technology to government agencies. "Amazon should not be in the business of providing surveillance systems like Rekognition to the government".
In one email, an account manager for Amazon Web Services eagerly offered up his or her services to a Washington County, Oregon, employee: "I am the Account Manager for AWS covering Oregon, and I noticed that you were leveraging our new Rekognition service". As with other surveillance technologies, these systems are certain to be disproportionately aimed at minority communities.
Detractors, like the ACLU, contend that it raises real privacy concerns about the ability to conduct surveillance in real time. Law enforcement agencies in California, Arizona, and other cities have also expressed an interest in adopting the technology.
Academic research has not been conducted on the accuracy of Amazon's product, but history tells us what happens when black people are thrown into the panopticon.
"Police would be able to determine who attends protests".
The documents in question highlight Washington County's database of 300,000 mug shot photos and a mobile app designed specifically for deputies to cross-reference faces.
Amazon is selling a product that the American Civil Liberties Union is calling too powerful, too unsafe and downright harmful to our society.
Civil liberties groups fear "Big Brother" abuses as software tracks people in real time.
Nonetheless, documents obtained by the ACLU show that Amazon continued to privately market Rekognition as a surveillance solution to law enforcement, with a primer on its facial recognition system. You may remember a few months ago that China seemed pretty proud of its facial recognition software, which was effectively catching wanted criminals in Zhengzhou.
Amazon brags that Rekognition's facial database includes tens of millions of faces, though it remains unclear how that came to be the case.
"People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government", said the letter to Bezos.
Amazon is providing the technology, known as Rekognition, as well as consulting services, according to the documents, which the ACLU obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
"When we find that AWS services are being abused by a customer, we suspend that customer's right to use our services", Amazon said in an emailed statement.
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.