According to a May 22 report from the America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amazon has been selling its facial recognition-capable service Rekognition to government agencies since 2017. More specifically, the company reportedly lists both the city of Orlando and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office as customers for the service. That’s based on documents the ACLU obtained via public records requests. Those documents highlight two very different approaches to the use of the technology but the full details aren’t necessarily clear. In Washington County, for example, the sheriff’s office uses Rekognition alongside a database which, at last accounting, held nearly 300,000 mugshot photos. The county also built a mobile app to provide deputies with a means to quickly scan and analyze against that database. Images can be taken from surveillance or other sources, which likely includes the camera of the smartphone it’s installed on. However, the full details of that program can’t be revealed due to a Non-Disclosure Agreement signed by the sheriff’s office.
Orlando, meanwhile, has taken a broader approach to its surveillance, according to the documentation, although the local police forces are also utilizing it. The Rekognition system operates across the city in real-time, taking feeds from city infrastructure while the Amazon solution assists in a search for any persons of interest. That’s bound to be at least somewhat useful for the city since Amazon claims the A.I.-empowered Rekognition solution can identify, track, and analyze up to 100 people in real time in a single image. As of this writing, there are no known arrests that have been made using Amazon’s solution. However, while similar solutions have been used in various parts of the world, most notably China, to great effect, the discovery has prompted the ACLU and others to take up arms against Amazon.
Aside from demanding further information, the organization wants Amazon to simply stop selling its Rekognition for use by law enforcement. Although there are certainly cases where this type of tracking might prove instrumental in catching a criminal, the ACLU isn’t alone in expressing worry about facial recognition, either. Concerns seem to center around possibility for misuse or infringements on freedom and privacy. Privacy worries stem from the fact that there hasn’t been much clarification for what types of security measures are in place for stored or transmitted footage. That’s setting aside a more general concern about how Amazon might be accessing or using any captured footage. Beyond that, there have been concerns expressed about the accuracy of these types of systems.