Amazon Is Now Quietly Selling AI-Enhanced Facial 'Rekognition' Tech to the Government
As fascinating as they are ethically dubious, artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology have been creeping into almost everything major tech companies do these days, to the point that Google recently renamed its research branch 'Google AI.'
And there's perhaps no better example of the unholy marriage between AI and facial recognition tech than Amazon's new "Rekognition" service, which it's just started shopping around to law enforcement to aid with government surveillance.
Here's the official description of Rekognition from the Amazon website:
"Amazon Rekognition makes it easy to add image and video analysis to your applications. You just provide an image or video to the Rekognition API, and the service can identify the objects, people, text, scenes, and activities...Amazon Rekognition also provides highly accurate facial analysis and facial recognition. You can detect, analyze, and compare faces for a wide variety of user verification, cataloging, people counting, and public safety use cases."
The pervasive use of advanced facial recognition tech along with sophisticated AI in police departments already has everyone from philosophers to the ACLU worried about the future impact such mass surveillance could have on society.
But what exactly is so potentially dangerous about Rekognition?
"[It's] a product that can be readily used to violate civil liberties and civil rights," says the ACLU in a recent statement.
After investigating Rekognition's adoption in three states by local governments, the ACLU says it found that Amazon has been actively promoting the service to police departments and fusion centers, the latter of which are offices where multiple agencies bring together information to catch criminals.
The ACLU says that the increased accuracy of Rekognition, paired with its use by governments, represents a "profound" threat to civil liberties because it allows police and other agencies to track undocumented immigrants and Black activists, as well as identify those who participate in public protests. Integrating this technology into police bodycams is also problematic, they say.
"People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government. By automating mass surveillance, facial recognition systems like Rekognition threaten this freedom, posing a particular threat to communities already unjustly targeted in the current political climate," adds the ACLU.
Right now, the organization has called for Amazon to back out of the surveillance business and stop allowing governments to use Rekognition.