Amazon is selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement

Stock SectorMay 22, 20185min6
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Amazon is selling facial recognition technology to police across the US.


Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Law enforcement agencies across the US are ordering a different kind of product from Amazon — facial recognition. 

According to documents and emails obtained from the American Civil Liberties Union, Amazon has been selling facial recognition technology called Rekognition to police. The tech, which Amazon boasts can track and analyze hundreds of people in a photo using a database with tens of millions of faces, has been used in Orlando, Florida, and the Washington County Sheriff’s office in Oregon.

Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

Facial recognition software isn’t new for law enforcement, who often rely on technology to help scale up investigations. But facial recognition also has its flaws, with a report finding that software used by the UK’s Metropolitan police had incorrect matches for 98 percent of its cases. Another concern with Rekognition is that it’s being provided by the largest online retailer in the world, as Amazon also gears up to jump into smart homes with voice assistants and cloud cameras

Massive tech companies partnering with law enforcement efforts often strike a nerve, raising concerns of privacy and software flaws. Several Google employees quit the company amid reports of a controversial military contract, Gizmodo reported last week

The ACLU raised these concerns with Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos in an open letter it sent on Tuesday. The letter, signed by a coalition of organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Human Rights Watch, raised concerns with Amazon encouraging law enforcement use the technology to monitor “people of interest,” which could include undocumented immigrants and activists. 

“Amazon Rekognition is primed for abuse in the hands of governments,” the letter said. “This product poses a grave threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build.”

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Rekognition being used by the Washington County sheriff’s department in Oregon.


ACLU

The Washington County sheriff’s department already has a database with 300,000 mugshots to use Amazon’s Rekognition with, as well as a mobile app for deputies. Records show that Amazon charges about $1 for every 1,000 images scanned. One bill showed Amazon charged $33.95 for 277,461 images processed in a month.

Law enforcement agencies in California and Arizona also showed interest in Amazon’s technology, the ACLU said. 

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