Amazon CEO Bezos draws ACLU facial recognition device plea

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Amazon is marketing facial-recognition technology to government agencies, raising privacy concerns and threatening communities already unjustly targeted, the American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday in calling on the retailer to get out of the surveillance business. The ACLU specifically asked for any evidence that the public had been given an opportunity to discuss the use of this technology before its deployment, but no such evidence was provided.

This month, Ranju Das, a software development developer on the Rekognition project, told attendees at a developer conference in Seoul, South Korea that the technology could track the mayor of Orlando through public cameras around the city. "We're talking about a technology that will supercharge surveillance in our communities", said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Director for the ACLU of Northern California.

"It makes them more efficient and better at fighting crime", Deputy Jeff Talbot of the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR said.

Amazon has been marketing Rekognition for government surveillance purposes, boasting that the technology provides an "easy and accurate" way to monitor people and that it can be used to identify "people of interest" to law enforcement.

In an emailed statement, Amazon Web Services stressed that it required all of its customers to comply with the law and to be responsible in the use of its products.

The city of Orlando, Florida, as well as the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR, are among Amazon's Rekognition customers.

He explained that the argument given for adopting body cameras was to make police offers more accountable for their actions.

It can identify anyone - anywhere - in real time.

In a separate petition, the ACLU states: "Facial recognition is not a neutral technology, no matter how Amazon spins this". Already, they've done so with more than 30,000 mugshots.

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"Even though our software is being used to identify persons of interest from images provided to the [Sheriff's Office], the perception might be that we are constantly checking faces from everything, kind of a Big Brother vibe", a county employee whose name was redacted wrote t0 Amazon.

"They have cameras all over the city", he said.

A systems analyst with the sheriff's office wrote he was, "hoping to expand our backend of images to every law enforcement agency in the metro Portland area".

"Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology", the statement read. "The authorized cameras are then streaming the data ... we are a subscriber to the stream, we analyze the video in real time, search against the collection of faces they have". The county obtained a mobile app that allows deputies to query the database by submitting images.

Some point to the technology's limitations as a reason not to use it for law and order, including its shortcomings when accurately identifying people of colour. According to Amazon, the service can "analyze billions of images and videos daily, and requires no machine learning expertise to use".

A letter to Amazon chief Jeff Bezos was signed by groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Data for Black Lives, Freedom of the Press Foundation and Human Rights Watch.

County representatives expected public blowback if civil-rights organizations like the ACLU learned about use of the Amazon technology.

"Access for Amazon for this pilot is extremely restricted and limited to only eight city-owned cameras only - three city-owned IRIS cameras and five city-owned facility security cameras", Bernal said.

While police might be able to videotape public demonstrations, face recognition is not merely an extension of photography but a biometric measurement - more akin to police walking through a demonstration and demanding identification from everyone there.

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