Amazon Is Lending a Hand to Police Surveillance

June 1, 2018 - 3 minutes read

Amazon’s ahead of their competitors right now for artificial intelligence-enabled voice assistants and consumer loyalty. These two fields are priceless at a time when consumers are only now being introduced to the value of voice assistants and in-home AI and IoT applications.

The Seattle-based tech giant’s most recently released technology, dubbed “Rekognition“, isn’t for the home, however. This technology scans videos and images to identify up to 100 people in one still, and the company is allowing law enforcement agencies to use it.

Finding a Familiar Face

In fact, Amazon noted that its facial image database has tens of millions of faces that it can loop through. It’s not clear where Amazon bought all of those images since they don’t have search engine data to pull from, like Google.

The technology has been used in Washington County, Oregon by local authorities to search for persons of interest in investigations. Rekognition can access cameras already set up around the city, and it will alert an officer as the suspect appears on camera. Body cameras could also employ the software.

Is Amazon Priming Future Police States?

Of course, most people who hear of Amazon’s willingness to work with the police and its very large database feel uncomfortable with the amount of power that could possibly yield. There’s not currently a way to stop law enforcement from surveying every person in the neighborhood, rather than just using the database for its intended purpose: when needed to ID a specific suspect.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) got a hold of some documents that state Amazon has been working closely with law enforcement and governments. The company has essentially been contracted to create advanced surveillance systems in countries across several states.

In a letter to Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, the ACLU says that letting police use this type of advanced software is priming police departments for inevitable abuse of technology for personal and political gain.

Treading a Fine Line

With Rekognition right now, an officer can upload any headshot and get instant information on likely matches with their name, race, date of birth, criminal record, and other biographical information. It can also quickly identify license plate numbers, along with other features like celebrity recognition and live facial verification.

We don’t have to point out the potential for abuse here; Amazon has shied away from speaking about encryption or other security precautions, and vagueness has never been in the best interest for tech giants these days. With rumors swirling that Alexa and Amazon’s other devices listen to you when you’re unaware, consumer trust is a delicate topic for the tech titan. Working with police could end up being a PR disaster for the company.

Hopefully, Amazon can figure out how to balance its relationship with the U.S. government and consumers.

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