Wednesday, 15 August, 2018

Amazon's Face Recognition Technology Raises Fears Of 'Big Brother'

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos laughs as he talks to the media while touring the new Amazon Spheres during the grand opening at Amazon's Seattle headquarters in Seattle Washington U.S 'Recipe for authoritarianism': Amazon under fire for selling face-recognition software to police
Ben Pena | 23 May, 2018, 20:12

While Rekognition has been used by police in Washington County, Oregon to search for suspects for the past year and a half, according to Amazon, the newly-released documents reveal the extent to which mass surveillance programs are being developed with Amazon's cooperation.

According to the ACLU, the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR and the city of Orlando, Florida are current customers using Amazons' Rekognition software.

On Tuesday, The American Civil Liberties Union along with more than twelve other civil rights organizations has asked Amazon to halt to the selling of Rekognition to law enforcement entities.

Amazon has helped various USA jurisdictions use Rekognition, said the letter, citing public records obtained by affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In Washington County, Rekognition was put to work analyzing photos of inmates booked into the local jail, according to the documents.

"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.

Orlando is piloting the facial recognition technology to target suspected criminals in footage from the city's surveillance systems. "They have cameras all over the city".

Border Patrol has expressed a desire to build face-recognizing drones and have tested facial scans at airports to track undocumented immigrants who may have overstayed their visas.

Rekognition software is already being utilized by law enforcement in the USA through pilot programs. Researchers at Georgetown University estimate there are more than 130 million American adults in criminal facial recognition databases in the U.S. After the attention, other law enforcement agencies in Oregon, Arizona and California began to reach to Washington County to learn more about how it was using Amazon's system, emails show.

State orders pathology tests on cougar that attacked bicyclists
Officials said it could not be determined if it was the same animal, given that there are a number of cougars in the region. The cougar appeared to be stalking two men as they rode their bikes over the weekend in the Cascade Mountains near Seattle.

The new service can identify, track and analyze people in real time, recognizing up to 100 people in a single image. "We demand that Amazon stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country", officials from the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Freedom of the Press Foundation, and Human Rights Watch wrote in a letter.

However, the question can boil over into civil rights areas when, for example, images of a citizen being booked for suspicion of a crime are retained by law enforcement, despite their innocence.

Rekognition's ability to identify individuals through photos and video in real-time makes it a powerful tool for tracking people. "Amazon must act swiftly to stand up for civil rights and civil liberties, including those of its own customers, and take Rekognition off the table for governments".

Foodstuffs, which includes the New World, Pak'nSave and Four Square brands, has said it uses facial recognition technology in some North Island stores, but won't say which ones.

'Police use of face recognition to continuously identify anyone on the street - without individualized suspicion - could chill our basic freedoms of expression and association, particularly when face recognition is used at political protests, ' the report said.

The ACLU released documents showing correspondence with police departments in Florida, Arizona and other states on Rekognition, which operated by the Amazon Web Services unit of the USA tech giant.

"Once a unsafe surveillance system like this is turned against the public, the harm can't be undone", Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director for the ACLU of California, said in a statement.

The company defended its facial recognition program, which matches photos and videos uploaded by the customer - not by Amazon.

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