Civil rights groups ask Amazon to stop selling facial recognition technology to the police



More than two dozen civil rights organizations are asking Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos to stop selling his facial recognition technology to the government, according to a letter made public by the ACLU on Tuesday.

The technology, called Rekognition, uses intelligence to identify objects, people, scenes and more of images or videos. An Amazon executive promoted public safety as a "common use case" for technology in a presentation. For example, it can be used by law enforcement to recognize and track suspects or "people of interest" in real time. According to the Amazon website, later versions of the tool can identify up to 100 of the largest faces in an image, which means it can draw faces from a crowd.

While Amazon may commercialize technology as a form of law enforcement to more easily trap offenders, civil rights organizations fear it may infringe on privacy rights and be used to attack vulnerable populations.

The 41 activist groups and entities that signed the letter, including the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Press Freedom Freedom and Human Rights Watch, say the technology "is prepared for abuse in the hands of governments."

"This product represents a serious threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and for the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build," the letter says. "People should be able to walk down the street without being watched by the government." Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom "

Related: Facebook offers facial recognition again in Europe

Through the Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU obtained emails among employees from Amazon and the local police on facial recognition technology and its use.

In correspondence by email with Amazon, the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Oregon said it has approximately 300,000 images in its photo database jail reservation that has been uploaded to Rekognition, these photos are used to compare images of suspects from security cameras or images provided by citizens.

The Washington County Sheriff's Office said it was using Rekognition to search and identify suspects of unknown theft, unconscious or deceased persons, persons of interest who do not have id entification, and leads possible witnesses and accomplices, according to an email obtained by the ACLU.

Rep. Jeff Talbot, public information officer for the Washington County Sheriff's Office, said in an email to CNNMoney that the technology has been in use for more than a year. "During that time, [we] has been transparent and accessible so that the local public knows what it is, and what is equally important, what is not"

He said "only a facial recognition, regardless of the percentage of coincidence, does not establish a probable cause to arrest a suspect "and the added images used by the system are those that have been obtained legally. The sheriff's office pays between $ 6 and $ 12 per month to use the service.

"The Sheriff's Office does not use technology for mbad surveillance and / or real-time surveillance, in fact, state law and our policy prohibits it for such use," he added.

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said: "Amazon requires that customers comply with the law and be responsible when using [Amazon Web Services]." When we discovered that AWS services are being abused by a customer, we suspend the right of that client to use our services. "

The spokesperson emphasized that technology can be used for many other purposes. For example, it was used to identify the guests of the Royal Wedding last weekend.

"Our quality of life would be much worse today if we forbid the new technology because some people could choose to abuse technology," the spokesperson added. 19659002] Related: Facebook under fire for storing facial recognition data without consent

Amazon, which announced the technology in November 2016 for customers of its cloud computing platform Amazon Web Services, has publicly disclosed that Rekognition customers include the city of Orlando, Florida, as well as the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Oregon.

On Wednesday, Orlando police said they were not using the technology in a research capacity or in any public space "at this time."

But then, on Thursday, Chief John Mina told the Orlando Sentinel that the software is installed on three surveillance cameras in the downtown area.

Late on Wednesday night, Amazon sought to correct reports about Orlando's use of AWS technologies after an executive made a mistake at an event. The company added a note below a YouTube video of the executive, Ranju Das, saying he "got confused."

"It is not right that cameras have been installed throughout the city or that they are using them in production, and we apologize for any misunderstanding," Amazon said in the statement.

Orlando police say they are testing the technology. "The objective of a pilot program like this is to address any concerns that arise as the new technology is tested, and any use of the system will be in accordance with current and applicable law," said department spokespersons.

Amazon promotional materials previously recommended by law enforcement agencies use Rekognition to identify people in the camera images of the police force, the ACLU said in a publication. "The company eliminated mention of the body cameras of the police from its site after the ACLU expressed concern in the talks with Amazon," according to the ACLU

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