Amazon Rekognition facial recognition services
If law enforcement agencies use Amazon Rekognition, they could potentially identify people in photos and videos in real time. Credit: Getty Images

Amazon is marketing its facial recognition services to law enforcement agencies around the country which would enable them to track, identify and analyze people in real time, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Amazon, one of the biggest tech companies in the world, and is known to many people for its Amazon Prime paid subscription service that lets customers order products with free two-day shipping, and offers  video and music streaming services, wants to provide artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology to local police departments and other law enforcement agencies.

The Amazon facial recognition service is being marketed with the name Rekognition and has the ability to detect and analyze people from photos and videos, which makes sense why the tech company is trying to get law enforcement agencies on board.  According to the official Amazon Rekognition marketing video, the presenter says one of the common uses for Rekognition is for public safety. 

 

Amazon Rekognition – Amazon’s facial recognition services

According to Amazon, Rekognition can be used by law enforcement agencies to recognize a “person of interest” across an existing database containing millions of images and video all in real time. The service works in conjunction with live street cameras installed by law enforcement agencies. 

The Washington County Sherriff’s Office has successfully integrated their database of 300,000 mugshots with the Rekognition service. The City of Orlando is currently using the service in a pilot program. 

"The City of Orlando is excited to work with Amazon to pilot the latest in public safety software through a unique, first-of-it's-kind public-private partnership,” said Orlando Chief of Police John Mina in a statement. “Through the pilot, Orlando will utilize Amazon’s Rekognition Video and Amazon Kinesis Video Streams technology in a way that will use existing City resources to provide real-time detection and notification of persons-of-interests, further increasing public safety, and operational efficiency opportunities for the City of Orlando and other cities across the nation.”

Amazon Rekognition facial recognition services

ACLU petition against Amazon Rekognition facial recognition service

While Amazon’s Rekognition services could provide companies with new ways to incorporate artificial intelligence into daily operations, the ACLU is concerned that marketing this unprecedented level of surveillance technology to government and law enforcement agencies is problematic and has launched a petition against Amazon urging people to take action against Amazon's involvement with surveillance at that level.

“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,” the ACLU wrote in a petition. 

The petition argues that facial recognition is not a neutral technology and has the potential to “amplify bias and inequality in the criminal justice system.”

“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.”