Police Using Amazon Facial-Recognition Tech? Congress Wants Answers.

by: The Knowledge Group

May 29, 2018


The Orlando police have tested and used Amazon’s facial-recognition technology.

The software called Rekognition is used by other cities as well. Over the course of a year, police in Washington County, Oregon have created a mugshot database to merge with Rekognition software, and now even have a mobile app for officers to submit their footage and do quick scans for matches.

Chief John Mina of Orlando acknowledged that the police undertook a test project in their offices so that random members of the public were not scanned.

Mina has since said that streaming also occurred through surveillance cameras facing the public in the central city, but only willing police officers’ faces were uploaded and put through the searches.

Nondisclosure Agreement

According to the ACLU Foundations of California, which coordinated a response with the Oregon and Florida ACLU branches, Rekognition can track people in real time. And each image is capable of identifying as many as 100 people at once.

Amazon is actively promoting Rekognition to cities, and even got a nondisclosure agreement signed by Washington County to guard key details from public scrutiny.

Letter to Amazon CEO

Now, Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) have demanded answers in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in which they question Orlando law enforcement’s use of Rekognition and Amazon Kinesis Video technology—mainly:

  • Who is receiving Amazon’s offers to use these products?
  • Which police departments are already using the technology?
  • What is Amazon’s position on technology capable of demographic profiling, which could target political activism, skin tone, or migration status?

The letter notes that police can use body cameras with the software, thus taking equipment that was meant to restore public confidence in the police, and using it to track that same public.

First and Fourth Amendment Problems

Amazon describes “person tracking” as “easy and accurate.” The company touts Rekognition’s ability to track “people of interest,” raising the possibility of profiling.

Amazon further promises that “you can accurately capture demographics and analyze sentiments for all faces” in a crowd, raising First Amendment concerns.

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