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ACLU Condemns Amazon’s Facial Recognition Tool as Invasive, Dangerous

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) condemns Amazon’s facial recognition tool, Rekognition, as invasive and dangerous. Rekognition is powered by artificial intelligence. It is capable of identifying faces from photo databases with several millions of images. Some US law enforcement agencies are using the software to capture criminals and find missing people, Forbes reported.

ACLU and its supporters have however written to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to stop marketing Rekognition to any more customers, including government agencies. They say it is invasive and dangerous and a surveillance tool that is susceptible to malicious purposes. According to Amazon, the facial recognition software only needs to have an image or video fed into its API to instantly identify objects, people, text, scenes and activities.

Police Departments Use Amazon’s Rekognition to Capture Criminals

“Amazon Rekognition also provides highly accurate facial analysis and facial recognition,” Amazon wrote as part of Rekognition’s product description. “You can detect, analyze and compare faces for a wide variety of user verification, cataloging, people counting and public safety use cases.”

Several security agencies that use Rekognition have been identified. Several police departments in many US states have been found to rely on this Amazon surveillance tool as too. These include those in Orlando, Florida and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon.

Chris Adzima, a senior information systems analyst at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office revealed that the county developed a dedicated mobile app to enable Rekognition to identify any given image from a database of over 300,000 faces. He cited several instances where the Amazon tool had been deployed to search and locate offenders.

An example was when a thief stole high-tech equipment from a hardware store, and when a customer used a stolen credit card at another store.  The images of these offenders were captured by surveillance cameras and then run through Amazon Rekognition. The first offender received 80% match from database images and the second offender got 95% similarity by Rekognition, Adzima said. This facial recognition breakthrough led to the arrest of the criminals.

Amazon Says Benefits of Its Surveillance Tool Far Outweigh Any Supposed Risks

The Orlando Police Department paid only $30.99 to obtain Rekognition, and they have used it to search about 40,000 images, ACLU found. “This is a very affordable mass surveillance machine, and that’s partly why it’s a concern,” said ACLU attorney Matt Cagle.

In its response, Amazon stated that Rekognition has proven very useful for security even though it is capable of being misused. It cited several instances where the surveillance tool had been deployed to locate lost children and abducted persons. In fact, Sky News recently used Rekognition to identify several faces at the just concluded Royal Wedding in the UK.

“Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “Imagine if customers couldn’t buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?”

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