Amazon fights back against criticism of facial recognition tech

23 May 2018

Image: Artem Oleshko/Shutterstock

Amazon has defended its decision to let US police forces use its facial recognition technology, claiming it will be a necessity for law enforcement in the near future and beyond.

Amazon has become the latest tech giant to be criticised for how it is using its technology after a freedom-of-information request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) showed an email exchange between Amazon staff and US police, specifically in the states of Oregon and Florida.

In the former, Amazon’s Rekognition technology allowed for the processing of a database of 300,000 people. This database could then be used in an app to cross-reference these people with anyone that has an existing criminal record.

Additionally, it was shown that there were discussions surrounding the possibility of putting facial recognition capabilities in body cameras worn by police officers.

‘Our quality of life would be much worse’

The ACLU and 33 other privacy advocate groups wrote a letter saying that if implemented on a grand scale, the technology could become a vast surveillance network.

According to the BBC, Amazon has since issued a statement disagreeing with this notion, claiming such systems are necessary in a modern and future police force.

“Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology,” the company said.

“Imagine if customers couldn’t buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?”

The use of facial recognition technology has already been criticised in countries such as China, where it is now being used in everything from ordering fast food, to local governments that yield enormous power in their area.

Amazon ‘rushing’ into surveillance market

Speaking of Amazon’s intentions, ACLU’s technology and civil liberties attorney in California, Matt Cagle, said: “When powerful surveillance technologies are deployed, it is difficult and often impossible to undo the harms once those technologies are deployed in communities.

“And so, we’re very concerned that Amazon appears to be rushing into this surveillance market with no meaningful restrictions to limit how governments can use this, and local governments themselves and local law enforcement are not adopting their own restrictions.”

Earlier this year, Google was criticised for its involvement with Project Maven, a scheme involving the use of artificial intelligence technology to interpret drone footage and improve strike accuracy.

This eventually led to about 12 employees resigning in protest this month over the company’s involvement.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic