Spy Deals: Amazon Sells Facial Recognition Tech to US Cops for Pennies


According to the documents obtained by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) or Northern California, Rekognition is now being used by the County Police of Orlando, Florida and Washington to identify people in real-time.

According to The Washington Post, whose owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns Amazon, the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR pays Amazon an amount between $6 and 12 every month to access the technology.

The ACLU, along with dozens of other groups nationwide, just sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding that the company stop providing the technology to government agencies.

Amazon's response is clear: if a client is using Rekognition in an unlawful or irresponsible manner, it will put a stop to it. "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", the group wrote.

Massive applications of such a relatively new and imprecise technology have raised concern amongst lawmakers and privacy advocates.

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In Oregon, law enforcement uploaded 300,000 mug shots dating to 2001 into Amazon's cloud and indexed them in Rekognition, according to another Amazon blog post. "Partnering with innovative companies-like Amazon-to test new technology is one of those innovative ways and how we will continue to ensure we offer the best in tools, training, and technology for the men and women who serve our community to do the best job they can, with the best resources available". (The marketing materials show it recognizing retired Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.) But as as a law-enforcement tool, the ACLU says it "can be readily used to violate civil liberties and civil rights". Its police force has used the technology to identify suspected shoplifters from security footage, according to RouteFifty. "This does show that the product is smart enough to know that it isn't a drawing or something like that, but what I would really like to get back is "Dragon" or "Flower" or anything like that".

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and others, said the retail giant's Rekognition software guide "read like a user manual for authoritarian surveillance".

Amazon's Rekognition technology provides accurate facial analysis and facial recognition. "People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government", the ACLU said. Additionally, Rekognition has access to only eight city-owned cameras. In a separate study conducted in 2012, facial recognition algorithms from vendor Cognitec performed 5 to 10 percent worse on African Americans than on Caucasians. Ever since its deployment in 2017, Washington County has built a database of at least 3,00,000 mugshot photos to be used in tandem with Amazon's face recognition technology. But among the few dissenters was Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice and a leader in the Black Lives Matter network, who warned early and often that the cameras could become tools of surveillance against people of color because "body-worn cameras don't watch the police, they watch the community being policed, people like me".

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has been using a similar facial recognition software for years.

"And so we're very concerned that Amazon appears to be rushing into this surveillance market with and with no meaningful restrictions to limit how governments can use this and local governments themselves and local law enforcement are not adopting their own restrictions".