ACLU Demands Amazon Stop Selling “Affordable Mass Surveillance” To Police

Amazon has been marketing its facial recognition platform, called Rekognition, a deep learning-based image and video analysis, to law enforcement agencies in Oregon and Orlando, according to recent documents acquired by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California.

The ACLU alleges that Amazon is marching society towards a dystopian future in which corporations and governments can identify and track people in real time through the use of surveillance cameras.

The ACLU and many other human rights organizations on Tuesday sent a damning letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos warning about the unpleasant future of mass surveillance in the hands of law enforcement. The letter urged Bezos to sever his business ties in providing surveillance products to the government.

“We demand that Amazon stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country. Amazon should not be in the business of providing surveillance systems like Rekognition to the government.”

The letter said Amazon had promoted itself as a “customer-centric company,” but that seems not to be the case with Rekognition, as it is a powerful mass surveillance tool readily available to violate rights.

“Amazon touts itself as a customer-centric company and directs its leadership to “work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust.” In the past, Amazon has opposed secret government surveillance. And you [Jeff Bezos] have personally supported First Amendment freedoms and spoken out against the discriminatory Muslim Ban. But Amazon’s Rekognition product runs counter to these values. As advertised, Rekognition is a powerful surveillance system readily available to violate rights and target communities of color.”

Amazon spokeswoman Nina Lindsey did not immediately address the concerns of the human rights groups to The Washington Post. “Amazon requires that customers comply with the law and be responsible when they use AWS services,” she said, referring to Amazon’s Web Services (AWS).

“When we find that AWS services are being abused by a customer, we suspend that customer’s right to use our services,” Lindsey added.

Lindsey told The Washington Post that the technology has several “useful purposes, including finding abducted people.” She even said during the royal wedding this past weekend, clients used the facial recognition platform to identify wedding attendees, such as celebrities.

Amazon’s Rekognition Helped TV Viewers Identify Royal Wedding Guests

Amazon says that Rekognition can identify people in real-time by immediately examining databases containing tens of millions of faces. Amazon offers a “person tracking” feature that it says “makes investigation and monitoring of individuals easy and accurate” for “surveillance applications.” The technology can be used to identify “all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports.” Here is how The Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, describes the technology:

“The technology works through pattern recognition: Customers put known images – of child pornography or of celebrities, for example – into a database, and the software uses artificial intelligence to scan new images for a match with those already stored. The more images that are fed into the system, the more accurate the software becomes. ”

Amazon launched Rekognition in November 2016. Corporations and governments can use the image recognition software, developed by the AWS team to analyze billions of images and videos daily, for public safety and security, detecting unsafe video, face-based verification, sentiment analysis, facial recognition, celebrity recognition, and license plate verification, according to the company’s website.

REKOGNITION VIDEO USE CASES:

Immediate Response For Public Safety And Security

Searchable Video Library

Detect Unsafe Video

Searchable Image Library

Image Moderation

Face-Based User Verification

Sentiment Analysis

Facial Recognition

Celebrity Recognition

License Plate Verification

The ACLU’s letter to Bezos also points out in an era in which cameras are almost everywhere — the low cost of Rekognition could allow for the vast expansion of mass surveillance.

“Amazon also encourages the use of Rekognition to monitor “people of interest,” raising the possibility that those labeled suspicious by governments—such as undocumented immigrants or Black activists—will be targeted for Rekognition surveillance. Amazon has even advertised Rekognition for use with officer body cameras, which would fully transform those devices into mobile surveillance cameras aimed at the public.”

“Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm can’t be undone. 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.

Ozer even said the technology could be used “to track protesters, target immigrants, and spy on entire neighborhoods.”

ACLU’s California chapter acquired more than a hundred pages of documents revealing Amazon’s extensive partnership with law enforcement agencies in Orlando, Florida, and Oregon to deploy the facial recognition platform.

The documents uncovered lowcost, but powerful facial recognition systems were being provided to these law enforcement agencies by Amazon’s services.

For instance, the sheriff’s office of Washington County, Oregon, assembled a database of 300,000 mug shots of suspected criminals that officers could use Rekognition to cross-examine with footage of potential suspects in real-time. One invoice showed that Amazon charged Washington County Sheriff’s Office just $343.95. A spokesperson for the county told The Washington Post that it is charged between $6 to $12 per month for the Rekognition platform.

Rather than limit government’s use of Rekognition, Amazon asked law enforcement agencies to promote its Amazon experience to other public sector customers — allowing for a rapid expansion of affordable mass surveillance “coast to coast,” said the ACLU.

In Orlando, Florida, Rekognition is finding people of interest using footage from cameras all over the city. Watch the full video here

Orland Street Camera (Source: Amazon) 

It seems as Amazon Rekognition is ushering in the next chapter of America’s dystopian future in which corporations and governments are Big Brother. This is affordable mass surveillance at its best and primed for abuse in the hands of those who have power.

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