Security advocates challenge facial recognition in policing

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Rekognition can find, identify, and track people in real time, and was recently used for a cute-yet-ethically-dubious "who's who?" broadcast of the recent royal wedding. As NPR reported two weeks ago, American police have generally held off, but there's new evidence that one police department - Orlando, Fla. - has chose to try it out.

A new facial recognition tool has been rolled out by Amazon.

County representatives expected public blowback if civil-rights organizations like the ACLU learned about use of the Amazon technology.

"Access for Amazon for this pilot is extremely restricted and limited to only eight city-owned cameras only - three city-owned IRIS cameras and five city-owned facility security cameras", Bernal said.

But in a presentation this month in Korea one A.W.S. executive said that Rekognition could be used in Orlando to locate the city's mayor in real-time through surveillance cameras.

The software can recognize up to 100 people in a single image, using a private repository of images.

Emails obtained by the ACLU through freedom of information requests show that the company worked with the city of Orlando, Florida and the Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR to deploy Rekognition, an AI facial recognition platform that can parse databases of millions of people.

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The Orlando Police Department declined to make anyone available for an interview about the program, but said in an email to The Associated Press that the department "is not using the technology in an investigative capacity or in any public spaces at this time".

A facial recognition system used by officials in China connects to millions of CCTV cameras and uses artificial intelligence to pick out targets. NPR tried to follow up, but OPD said it wasn't doing interviews on the topic. So far, the city has provided facial imaging for only a "handful" of officers who volunteered to participate in the test.

Though Amazon is best known to consumers for its e-commerce platform, the company also runs a giant cloud computing business.

"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's statement said. "Imagine if customers couldn't buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?" the spokeswoman said.

"Amazon requires that customers comply with the law and be responsible when they use AWS services. All use of the testing and this pilot is being done and operated in accordance with current and applicable law". Soon after that, the company started marketing it to police departments as a tool to fight crime, according to the New York Times.

The ACLU cites Amazon video in which Ranju Das, general manager for Amazon Rekognition, says the programs are being used with Orlando's existing cameras throughout the city. "And that's why we're blowing the whistle right now".

The Washington County Sheriff's Office in OR has used it to quickly compare unidentified suspects in surveillance images to a database of more than 300,000 booking photos from the county jail - a common use of such technology around the country - while the Orlando Police Department in Florida is testing whether it can be used to single out persons-of-interest in public spaces and alert officers to their presence. Law enforcement in California and Arizona have already shown an interest in using the technology - and it is hard to imagine that Bezos would heed the ACLU's warnings.