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Orlando Testing Facial Recognition Technology Provided Free by Amazon

Published: November 3, 2018
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Orlando, Florida, law enforcement is testing technology developed by Amazon, Inc. to keep the cities residents under constant surveillance, according to a story broken by Buzzfeed.

Buzzfeed’s exclusive report details the police department’s potential deployment of Amazon’s Rekognition, the Seattle, Washington-based behemoth’s facial recognition software.

The documents obtained by Buzzfeed reveal:

Amazon marketed its facial recognition tools to Orlando’s police department, providing tens of thousands of dollars of technology to the city at no cost, and shielding the Rekognition pilot with a mutual nondisclosure agreement that kept its details out of the public eye. More broadly, they reveal the accelerated pace at which law enforcement is embracing facial recognition tools with limited training and little to no oversight from regulators or the public.

"Providing customers with an opportunity to test technology with free credits is a common practice in the industry and something we offer to many of our customers with various AWS services," an Amazon Web Services spokesperson said in a statement. 

"Talking to organizations about products and new features under a non-disclosure agreement is also something we do frequently with many of our customers for the purposes of protecting intellectual property and competitive information. We continue to support our customers in the responsible use of the technology which includes providing publicly available best practices and documentation as well as ongoing guidance from our machine learning experts, all of which is standard for customer engagements.”


In other words, using Amazon’s facial recognition technology allows police and other law enforcement agencies to conduct dragnet surveillance in real-time without submitting the use of those surveillance apparatuses to the demands of the law, state or federal.


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Midday yesterday, activists affiliated with immigrants rights groups NWDC Resistance and Mijente donned Jeff Bezos masks outside Amazon’s Seattle Spheres building to protest the tech giant’s collaboration with ICE. The activists demanded Amazon stop marketing and selling its face surveillance technology, Rekognition, to ICE and other law enforcement agencies. The protest comes on the heels of new revelations about Amazon’s work with law enforcement around face surveillance nationwide.

Amazon Inc. met with officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in June as part of an attempt to market the company's new facial recognition technology -- which can identify people from surveillance footage using artificial technology, as revealed by internal emails obtained by the Project on Government Oversights and first published by The Daily Beast.

The sneaky thing about Amazon’s increased dominance in so many key aspects of our lives is that much of the perniciousness is hidden. No one’s going to tell you about all the retailers who have gotten pressured or destroyed via its tactics while you’re happily clicking “add to cart” and smiling about 2-day free shipping. In this sense, it can be best compared to the evils of factory farming. Most people just simply have no idea about the immense damage going on behind the scenes as they indulge in incredible convenience and what looks like a good deal.

Retailers are turning to facial recognition software to identify potential thieves by comparing scanned images of shoppers’ faces against a database of known shoplifters. But as more retail stores consider using the technology, privacy advocates and industry stakeholders are debating how the technology should be regulated and how shoppers should be informed about when their faces are scanned.

Last week, the ACLU of Northern California revealed that Amazon’s Rekognition face surveillance software identified 28 members of Congress as people who have been previously arrested for a crime. The only problem? They were false matches. Unsurprisingly, the 28 members of Congress falsely matched to the mugshot database were disproportionately people of color. While Congress is only 20 percent people of color, they were 40 percent of those falsely matched by Rekognition.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said Thursday that in its new test of Amazon’s facial recognition system known as Rekognition, the software erroneously identified 28 members of Congress as people who have been arrested for a crime.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy activists are asking Amazon to stop marketing a powerful facial recognition tool to police, saying law enforcement agencies could use the technology to "easily build a system to automate the identification and tracking of anyone."

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