Amazon Rekognition a possible threat to the civil rights of citizens

Use of software by law enforcement as a surveillance tool is a real concern for groups

Use of software by law enforcement as a surveillance tool is a real concern for groups

Amazon has come under fire from civil rights groups in the US that say their online service that identifies faces in images could be abused by law enforcement.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a statement on Tuesday asking the tech giant to refrain from selling Amazon Rekognition to law enforcement agencies as they fear it will be used to unfairly target protesters along with individuals that the police view as suspicious.

The ACLU is leading a group of more than two dozen other civil rights organizations that are worried that the product will be used by law enforcement as a surveillance tool.

This claim was reinforced on Tuesday when the ACLU released a collection of public records that detailed how Amazon has been selling the software to those law enforcement agencies.

The statement released on the ACLU website stressed how the software threatens the freedom of citizens to go about their daily lives, “People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government”.

“By automating mass surveillance, facial recognition systems like Rekognition threaten this freedom, posing a particular threat to communities already unjustly targeted in the current political climate. Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely difficult to undo”.

civil rights

In a letter addressed to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, the group outlined its fears about the misuse of the software and also their concern that “Amazon Rekognition is primed for abuse in the hands of governments”.

They also implored the company to move fast, stating, “Amazon must act swiftly to stand up for civil rights and civil liberties, including those of its own”.

Police in Orlando, Florida and in Oregon’s Washington County are currently using Rekognition.

A report by the The Washington Post has stated that the Washington County Sheriff department pays something in the range of $6 and $12 a month for the service.

Amazon spokeswoman Nina Lindsey did not directly address the concerns outlined by the civil rights groups, stating that Amazon would require all customers to “comply with the law and be responsible when they use AWS services.”

She also said that the software could be used for many positive purposes, including finding abducted people and could also help locate children that become separated from their parents in crowded areas.

The product was introduced by Amazon as part of Amazon Web Services in late 2016 and claimed it “can process millions of photos per day”.

This concern by citizens over the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a surveillance tool by government agencies was also highlighted recently when it was reported that thousands of Google employees signed an internal petition requesting that the company end its controversial contract with the Pentagon. A partnership with the US Department of Defense, named Project Maven, that promised to speed up the analysis of drone footage by assessing images of photos or objects.

Google were quick to downplay any fears of misuse, “the technology flags images for human review, and is for non-offensive uses only,” a Google spokeswoman said. “Military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns. We’re actively discussing this important topic internally and with others as we continue to develop policies and safeguards around the development and use of our machine learning technologies.”

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