“Amazon offers the example of Rekognition technology being used to crack a sex trafficking case by identifying 20 victims and helping to send the perpetrator to prison…”
Amazon is trying to put its own spin on its sale of facial recognition technology to police with a new case study put together by Marinus Analytics.
It is by now a notoriously controversial subject. It blew up in May, when the American Civil Liberties Union issued a report revealing that Amazon had sold its Rekognition computer vision services to US police agencies for use as a facial recognition tool in public surveillance. The disclosure immediately prompted an outcry from privacy advocates, but it also drew wider attention, ultimately prompting some of Amazon’s own shareholders and employees to publicly call on Amazon to stop selling Rekognition to the government.
Amazon’s position, of course, is that its technology does much more good than harm. While Rekognition is being used for public surveillance, it’s also being used to help track the victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Amazon offers the example of Rekognition technology being used to crack a sex trafficking case by identifying 20 victims and helping to send the perpetrator to prison; in another case, police in California were able to track down a missing 16-year-old girl who fell victim to sex trafficking. Meanwhile, a nonprofit called ‘Thorn’ says Rekognition has helped it to identify 5,894 sex trafficking victims, and to deliver 103 of them to safety.
It’s a compelling case, but it’s worth noting that all of these examples appear to revolve around the application of Rekognition’s facial recognition technology photographic records, and not live feeds of public spaces. As such, they don’t address the central issue of controversy – the police use of facial recognition in public surveillance. Nor does it address substantial criticisms over the racial bias evident in Amazon’s algorithms.
Nevertheless, Amazon is at least making a solid case for the government use of its computer vision technology in general, which could help to advance the discourse over how sophisticated biometric technology should be used and limited in public spaces, even if it doesn’t get Amazon off the hook.
August 10, 2018 – by Alex Perala