It is remarkable how a company that used to sell books, is now selling facial recognition technology to the government. Since its founding in 1994, Amazon has ballooned into one of the most powerful companies in the world. Now, Amazon is the leading company in online retailing that sells products, hosts websites, and even streams movies and series. This time, Amazon took a step further by offering a facial recognition technology powered by deep learning to the government. In November 2016, Amazon developed a new service known as Rekognition, which can process millions of photos per day to detect people and objects in images. As per the published blog of Amazon, the technology can be used to perform visual surveillance, scan images to detect person of interest or objects. If an image is fed to this tool, it will return bounding boxes on each face, along with its labels. Moreover, the technology can be used to build “smart” marketing billboards.
It did not take long for the police to get hands on such a powerful tool to search for “person of interest” in real time. According to Amazon, the service can identify up to 100 of the largest faces in an image, which means, it can literally point out a face from crowd. Amazon’s executive advertised the prime use of this service for public safety. Even though Amazon is marketing the technology as an easier method for law enforcement to catch criminals, there are several organizations that would not willingly trespass on public privacy. Including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), more than two dozen civil right organization are urging Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement. About 41 activist groups and organizations cosigned a letter that says this tech “is primed for abuse in the hands of governments”. Moreover, the letter states that the tool is a grave threat to communities and to trust and respect that Amazon has worked hard to earn. Amazon must understand the consequences and stand up for civil rights, and cancel the deal of Rekognition.
The letter says, “We demand that Amazon stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country. Amazon should not be in the business of providing surveillance systems like Rekognition to the government.” ACLU further added that people should be able to walk freely without being watched by the government or any third-party for that mater. The main concern about this tool is government can use this technology to continuously track immigrants as they try to reestablish their new lives. Moreover, local police can employ this technology to identify political protester and it can endanger democracy. However, Public information officer Deputy Jeff Talbot cleared that they will not utilize this service for mass or/and real-time surveillance. In fact, their policy prohibits them for such utilization.
If you really think about it, every technology always has a loophole or a dark back door. Any service can be misused by criminals or cyber hackers. In fear of that, we never limit or ban the use of such applications, and Amazon’s Rekognition should not be treated differently.