Wednesday, May 23, 2018

ACLU - Amazon Rekognition and the Secret Surveillance State

Imagine attending a protest, and the police automatically identify and label you as suspicious from a photo of the crowd.  Or you start a new life in this country, and ICE watches you in real time.  You may not be suspected of criminal activity, but the government tracks your whereabouts – and the whereabouts of anyone they want.

This disturbing surveillance state is exactly what Amazon is powering with its facial recognition technology, Rekognition.

Amazon's own marketing materials tout Rekognition's alarming tracking capabilities, and documents that the ACLU recently obtained demonstrate just how eager Amazon is to hand this product over to the government.  Amazon isn't just actively selling to law enforcement, it's partnering with them to ensure that authorities can fully utilize Rekognition's capabilities.

Amazon's Rekognition WEB page (link above):

Amazon Rekognition makes it easy to add image and video analysis to your applications.  You just provide an image or video to the Rekognition API, and the service can identify the objects, people, text, scenes, and activities, as well as detect any inappropriate content.  Amazon Rekognition also provides highly accurate facial analysis and facial recognition.  You can detect, analyze, and compare faces for a wide variety of user verification, cataloging, people counting, and public safety use cases.

Amazon Rekognition is based on the same proven, highly scalable, deep learning technology developed by Amazon’s computer vision scientists to analyze billions of images and videos daily, and requires no machine learning expertise to use.  Amazon Rekognition is a simple and easy to use API that can quickly analyze any image or video file stored in Amazon S3.  Amazon Rekognition is always learning from new data, and we are continually adding new labels and facial recognition features to the service.

ACLU Petition:


Amazon has entered the surveillance business, and they're selling to the government.

Amazon's product, Rekognition has the power to identify people in real time, in photos of large groups of people, and in crowded events and public places.  At 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.

Facial recognition is not a neutral technology, no matter how Amazon spins this.  It automates mass surveillance, threatens people's freedom to live their private lives outside the government's gaze, and is primed to amplify bias and inequality in the criminal justice system.

Amazon has no business allowing governments to use Rekognition – and powering a surveillance state.

Already, Rekognition is in use in Florida and Oregon.  Government agencies in California and Arizona have sought information about it, too.  And Amazon didn't just sell Rekognition to law enforcement, it's actively partnering with them to ensure that authorities can fully utilize Rekognition's capabilities.

Amazon 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, Amazon is powering dangerous surveillance that poses a grave threat to customers and communities already unjustly targeted in the current political climate.

We must make it clear to Amazon that we won't stand by and let it pad its bottom line by selling out our civil rights.

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