The American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy activists are putting tremendous pressure on Amazon.com Inc (NASDAQ:AMZN) to stop marketing and selling its powerful facial recognition tool Rekognition to the police and to government organizations.
In a letter sent this week to chief executive Jeff Bezos, the ACLU and a number of other non-profit groups, demanded Amazon stop providing its new facial surveillance product powered by artificial intelligence, to law enforcement officials as it is "primed for abuse in the hands of governments".
“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government. Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. ... With Rekognition, Amazon delivers dangerous surveillance powers directly to the government,” wrote the ACLU.
Amazon has already worked with local police in Orlando, Florida and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon to roll out Rekognition.
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Orlando police use Rekognition to search for people in footage drawn from the city’s video surveillance cameras. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office meanwhile, has also built a Rekognition-based mobile app that its deputies use to compare photos of suspects against a collection of mug shots from the local jail.
Nicole Ozer, the Civil Liberties Director for the ACLU of California, called Rekognition a “dangerous surveillance system” that can be turned against the public.
“In the current political climate, we need to stop supercharged surveillance before it is used to track protesters, target immigrants, and spy on entire neighborhoods,” she said. “We’re blowing the whistle before it’s too late.”
Amazon is promoting Rekognition as a tool which can be used to search data banks holding millions of faces and identify up to 100 people in a single image. It can also track people in real time when examining streaming videos of crowds as well. A final feature is that it can scan footage from the body cameras worn by police officers and turn these devices into surveillance tools.
In a statement, Amazon Web Services said, “Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology.”