ACLU’s Attack on Amazon Surveillance Tech Misses Bigger Issue: ITIF

ACLU's Attack on Amazon Surveillance Tech Misses Bigger Issue: ITIFThe Information Technology and Innovation Foundation is pushing back against the ACLU’s efforts to get Amazon to stop selling its facial recognition technology to government organizations.

The outcry began about a week ago, when the ACLU published information concerning multiple police agencies’ use of Rekognition, a machine learning, computer vision system that runs on Amazon Web Services. Citing concerns about oppressive surveillance and ongoing racial discrimination, the ACLU singled out Amazon for its role as a kind of arms dealer.

That was the wrong approach, argues ITIF Research Analyst Alan McQuinn. In a blog post on the ITIF website, McQuinn points out that facial recognition technology offers plenty of applications for the social good, from helping to track victims of human trafficking to identifying the guests at the recent royal wedding. Like any other technological tool, McQuinn suggests, facial recognition can be used for good or ill, depending on who is using it and what regulations are in place. But by framing the technology as the problem, and attempting to shame Amazon into halting its sale, the ACLU is bypassing the more pressing issue of getting rules and norms in place that can help to make sure the technology is only used for society’s benefit.

McQuinn also suggests that if Amazon stops selling this technology to government authorities, another company will take its place; and indeed there are a number of government-focused biometrics specialists that will not respond to public pressure the way that Amazon, a consumer-facing company, is compelled to. It may be that in attacking Amazon outright, the ACLU has missed an opportunity to leverage the company’s sensitivity to public opinion to make its law enforcement partners tackle the issue of regulation in a more proactive way.

Instead, Amazon is now on the defensive, and lawmakers are focusing their tough questions not on the law enforcement organizations under their supervision, but on one of many private sector companies capable of providing such technology to them.

Sources: ITIF, The Hill

May 30, 2018 – by Alex Perala