The American Civil Liberties Union is urging Amazon to stop selling its facial recognition system to government authorities, warning that it threatens privacy and civil liberties and empowers a growing surveillance state.
The system, Rekognition, was first announced toward the end of 2016, and is available through Amazon Web Services. Based on machine learning technology, it is designed to recognize not only faces but demographic details and even emotions; and the machine vision technology can also recognize animals and all kinds of other objects. An evaluation conducted last summer by Novetta noted that the system’s low cost and ease of implementation had even then allowed it to gain “significant traction in government and commercial applications,” and the ACLU now reports that the system is being used by government authorities in Florida and Oregon, with government agencies in Arizona and California also having made enquiries.
In a call to action on its website, the ACLU is inviting citizens to sign a petition against the technology’s use by government, arguing that “[a]t a time when we’re joining public protests at unprecedented levels, and discriminatory policing continues to terrorize communities of color, handing this surveillance technology over to the government threatens our civil rights and liberties.” The civil rights organization also suggested that Amazon is being hypocritical in its sale of the technology to government, asserting that the company “has branded itself as customer-centric, opposed secret government surveillance, and has a CEO who publicly supported First Amendment freedoms and spoke out against the discriminatory Muslim Ban,” yet is also “powering dangerous surveillance that poses a grave threat to customers and communities already unjustly targeted in the current political climate.”
It’s the latest example of the growing clash between large-scale government use of biometric technologies and privacy and civil rights advocates, with the DHS’s expanding airport screening program based on facial recognition being another flash point that the ACLU has weighed in on. Amazon hasn’t yet responded to the organization’s critique concerning Rekognition.
May 23, 2018 – by Alex Perala