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FBI Using Rekognition, Amazon’s Big Brother Face Recognition Software

The FBI is employing a new method to catch criminals: Amazon’s facial recognition software known as Rekognition.

Using Amazon Rekognition, Amazon’s relatively new facial recognition software, allows the FBI to expedite sifting through surveillance footage during investigations. After a series of high-profile counterterrorism investigations that exceeded the FBI’s technological capacity, the software trial began in early 2018, according to the FBI.

How Does Amazon Rekognition Work?

Constructed with computer vision, Rekognition partners with and enables other computer applications to perform a variety of functions, including memorizing and recognizing speech patterns, detecting faces and text within images and simulating how the human brain learns.

Below is a detailed list of what Amazon Rekognition can do, according to the Daily Mail:

  • Amazon Rekognition gives software applications the power to detect objects, scenes and faces within images.
  • It was built with computer vision, which lets AI programs analyse still and video images.
  • AI systems rely on artificial neural networks, which try to simulate the way the brain works in order to learn.
  • They can be trained to recognize patterns in information, including speech, text data or visual images.
  • Rekognition uses deep learning neural network models to analyze billions of images daily.
  • Updates since it was created even allow the technology to guess a person’s age.
  • In November 2017 its creators announced that Rekognition can now detect and recognize text in images, perform real-time face recognition across tens of millions of faces and detect up to 100 faces in challenging crowded photos.

How Can Amazon Rekognition Assist in Counterterror Investigations?

Technology such as Amazon Rekognition allows FBI agents to use their skills in different areas of an investigation or focus on other cases altogether.

After the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, law enforcement gathered a petabyte worth of data, mainly from surveillance cameras and cell phones to identify Stephen Paddock as the shooter.

FBI Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Christine Halvorsen told fedscoop: “We had agents and analysts, eight per shift, working 24/7 for three weeks going through the video footage of everywhere Stephen Paddock was the month leading up to him coming and doing the shooting.”

Halvorsen said that if the FBI had access to Amazon Rekognition at that time, they could have sorted through the same amount of data “in 24 hours,” three weeks faster than it took agents to go through the mountain of surveillance videos.

“To get through that data is a challenge for us,” she said. “We threw resources at it. The answer for the FBI was to throw bodies at it. But the investigators and analysts were completely overwhelmed by the volume of data collected in that short amount of time for us to get through it quickly. They were using boards to [sic] photos up, cardboard boxes.”

The time that Rekognition can save agents during an investigation is exponential.

Halvorsen added, “And think about it too, you take that manpower and you put it on something like that; the other cases we have, they don’t stop going. The subjects don’t just sit back and say ‘The FBI is busy over there, we’re going to stop doing bad things while they’re busy.’ The threat keeps going.”

Other than the FBI, the only customers currently using Amazon Rekognition are Oregon’s Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Orlando.

Amazon Rekognition Backlash

Privacy advocates and human rights organizations, however, are not so happy about the development of Amazon’s software nor the use of it by the government. As Fast Company reported, last Thursday a group of investors issued a shareholder resolution calling for Amazon to sales of Rekognition to the government, citing potential civil and human rights risks.

The ACLU has previously raised concerns of racial bias in the software and Amazon’s own employees questioned the sale of Rekognition to the government in a letter last year.

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government. By automating mass surveillance, facial recognition systems like Rekognition threaten this freedom, posing a particular threat to communities already unjustly targeted in the current political climate. Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely difficult to undo,” wrote the ACLU.


Leighanna Shirey

Leighanna graduated with a degree in English from Pensacola Christian College. After teaching high school English for five years, she decided to pursue her dream of writing and editing. When not working, she enjoys traveling with her husband, spending time with her dogs, and drinking way too much coffee.

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