The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Northern California chapter today revealed documents and emails indicating Amazon aided law enforcement agencies in the US with the development and deployment of facial recognition technology.
The impact: Amazon is in the public surveillance business now. Its impressive Rekognition technology is the perfect tool for government entities wishing to obliterate the idea of personal privacy.
An ACLU investigation revealed Amazon helped law enforcement agencies in both Oregon and Florida adapt Rekognition AI for surveillance purposes:
Orlando has since deployed Rekognition to search for people in footage drawn from the city’s video surveillance cameras, according to Amazon. Washington County has built a Rekognition-based mobile app that its deputies can use to scan any image through the county’s database of 300,000 faces.
Go deeper: Empowering law enforcement with better tools is a good thing. But giving the government unbridled access to a Pandora’s Box of data certainly isn’t, according to experts.
The ACLU sent an open-letter (signed by dozens of human rights organizations) to Jeff Bezos asking him to cease aiding the government surveillance machine:
People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government. Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it. The federal government could use this facial recognition technology to continuously track immigrants as they embark on new lives. Local police could use it to identify political protesters captured by officer body cameras. With Rekognition, Amazon delivers these dangerous surveillance powers directly to the government.
The bottom line: Facebook’s involvement in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, and Google’s inexplicable choice to help the US military develop image recognition AI, are fairly small potatoes compared to this. Amazon has essentially chosen to help the US government institute a big brother state to rival China’s. It’s a sad day for democracy.