Amazon is selling facial recognition technology that it has developed – called Rekognition – to law enforcement agencies and maybe others – Amazon won’t say.
While there is nothing illegal about this and if Amazon doesn’t do it, others likely would, it certainly raises privacy concerns.
Two police departments that are known to have purchased the software are using it in different ways.
The Washington County, Oregon Sheriff is using it to match suspects to people in their database. They use it, they say, about 20 times a day. It cost the department $400 to upload 305,000 mugshots and it costs them $6 a month to use the service. These numbers have to be very attractive to law enforcement.
The Orlando, FL police department, however, is using it very differently. Orlando has a series of surveillance cameras throughout the city to watch people who are out in public. They call them public safety cameras since that likely sounds better than the 1984-esque alternative. Using these cameras and Amazon’s facial recognition system, the city can look at the images to find “persons of interest”. Of course, most of us won’t complain if the city we live in is safer, but it also means that likely your every move in Orlando (and maybe other cities, we do not know) could be being monitored and potentially recorded.
Some people say that if you are not doing anything wrong you shouldn’t object to being surveilled.
As we recently discovered, all of the major cell phone companies sell your location data to anyone who’s check will clear. Is there any reason that cash-strapped cities won’t do the same? Maybe with the pictures showing what you were doing and with whom? Don’t know. There are no clear universal laws covering this other than you do not have an expectation of privacy when you are outside.
So, what can or should you do?
Unfortunately, in this case, there is not a lot that you can do.
Be aware, for one, that your actions are not private, may be recorded, and you may be identified and your actions cataloged. This is somewhat like what automated license plate readers do in some cities, only a little more intrusive.
Write to your politicians if you think that there should be limits on the surveillance that your government should be doing, absent probable cause. It may or may not make a difference, but certainly if people do not complain, the politicians will assume you don’t care.
Finally, let your friends know what is happening. An informed citizenry is critical to a democracy.
So stay tuned. I suspect that Jeff Bezos won’t change his mind and stop selling this technology because even if he does, someone else will likely step in to replace him (maybe Facebook). This story will take a while to play out.
Information for this post came from The LA Times.