The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has revealed that Amazon has been test-piloting a facial recognition system, in collaboration with law enforcement and state authorities. This latest development in the age of surveillance capitalism sees the emergence of an incredibly sophisticated system that can detect “people”, “objects”, “licence plates”, “inappropriate content”, and even “emotions” in real time and be used en mass in public.
BREAKING: The ACLU has obtained records showing Amazon helping governments deploy a dangerous new facial recognition system that can track people in real time against huge databases. Our investigation: https://t.co/6aJ3Vjm21L
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— Matt Cagle (@Matt_Cagle) May 22, 2018
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Amazon calls this system Rekognition.
Amazon, Bezos and the Washington Post
Among the key features of Rekognition are facial analysis and ‘person tracking’.
The panopticon as “public safety”
A chilling video, published recently, shows Amazon Rekognition’s Ranju Das promoting the “public safety” uses of the system:
Amazon helping governments deploy a 'dangerous' new facial recognition system that can track people in real time against huge databases, say @ACLU_NorCal & @Matt_Cagle https://t.co/3btXuLq2oO. Here is the General Manager of the programme in South Korea promoting the system pic.twitter.com/YEicAZ9UFH
— M. A. E. (@MElmaazi) May 23, 2018
The revelations by the ACLU show that Amazon lists the city of Orlando, Florida, and a county sheriff’s office in Oregon as two major customers.
Amazon also encourages the use of police body cameras with Rekognition.
The ACLU warns that using facial recognition with body cameras:
would fully transform devices intended for government accountability into widespread surveillance devices aimed at the public.
Welcome to Surveillance Valley. The line between government and private spying — it does not exist. https://t.co/pZfNK6tWkN
— Yasha Levine (@yashalevine) May 22, 2018
all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports
and that it can:
quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces
‘Please stop’ just won’t cut it
that Amazon stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country
But scholar Shoshana Zuboff warned in 2016 that:
demanding privacy from surveillance capitalists or lobbying for an end to commercial surveillance on the Internet is like asking Henry Ford to make each Model T by hand. It’s like asking a giraffe to shorten its neck or a cow to give up chewing. Such demands are existential threats that violate the basic mechanisms of the entity’s survival. How can we expect companies whose economic existence depends upon behavioral surplus to cease capturing behavioral data voluntarily? It’s like asking for suicide.
The Canary reached out to Amazon UK to determine whether similar programmes are being implemented in the UK or elsewhere in Europe, but Amazon did not respond by time of publication.
What should be clear is that the surveillance state is neither simply the government nor the private sector; it is both. And nothing short of decisive and collective action will reverse this threat to freedom and democracy everywhere.
– Write to your MP and demand the government disclose any and all use of facial recognition software by public bodies.
– You can also join The Canary, so we can keep holding the powerful to account.
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