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ACLU: Amazon's 'Rekognition' Tool Could Be Used Against Protesters, Immigrants

Amazon Rekognition in action.
(Image credit: ACLU)

Update,6/04/18, 12:30am PT:

We've updated the article to correct a claim that the Amazon Go use facial recognition to identify its customers. A previous TechCrunch article said that the company's own "Go" stores didn't use facial recognition.

The stores seem to be using cameras primarily to track the movement of products that are for sale. Amazon confirmed to Tom's Hardware that its no-checkout stores don't use facial recognition, but didn't reveal more details about how the system works in time for this update.

Amazon also refuted ACLU's claims that its Rekognition technology would be abused by law enforcement.

Original, 5/23/18, 10:00am PT:

The ACLU said that Amazon has created a “powerful and dangerous new facial recognition system” called “Rekognition” and is actively helping governments deploy it.

Amazon Enters The Surveillance Business

Marketing materials and documents obtained by ACLU affiliates in three states revealed an Amazon product that can readily be used to violate civil liberties and rights, according to the non-profit organization.

Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real-time, and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can then scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces. The database could be either provided by law enforcement, or Amazon may use its own, depending on how Rekognition has been configured by whoever's using it at the time.

Amazon recently started opening no-checkout stores, where shoppers have their faces scanned from the moment they enter the store. Those face profiles are then associated to people’s credit cards and Amazon accounts, so the company would know who to charge when shoppers exit the stores. This is supposed to make shopping more convenient, but as the ACLU's findings show, the underlying tech can serve other purposes.

According to the documents viewed by the ACLU, Amazon sees law enforcement agencies deploying its facial recognition technology as a “common use case.” The documents also say that the “person tracking” enabled by Rekognition is an “easy and accurate” way to monitor people.

Amazon said in the documents that its technology can identify “people of interest.” The ACLU said this could allow the government to track people it labels “suspicious,” such as black activists or undocumented immigrants. At a time when Americans seem to be joining more (and bigger) protests, Rekognition would allow law enforcement to monitor “all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports.”

Demand That Amazon Stops Selling Surveillance Technology To Governments

The ACLU and a group of other civil rights organizations demanded that Amazon stop selling its Rekognition technology to governments. Amazon lists the city of Orlando, Florida, and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon among the governmental agencies that use Rekognition.

The ACLU worries that eventually the police body cameras, which were originally meant to be used as a tool of government transparency, could be turned back on the citizens. The technology could the police officers to determine in real-time who has joined a protest, for instance. The police could also see in real-time who of the people they see during their work hours is an undocumented immigrant.

The ACLU believes that free citizens should be able to walk down the street without being constantly monitored and immediately identified by the government. That would be a system similar to the one that has already been implemented in China, and millions of Chinese citizens have already been negatively impacted by it.

  • poisonpie
    As much as I don't like facial recognition and tracking being used in public, if you're a "protester" and not rioting you have nothing to worry, because you're not breaking any laws, and if you're an "undocumented immigrant" (read: illegal alien) you don't have any civil rights, being illegal and all. ACLU virtue signaling, as usual.
    Reply
  • cryoburner
    Incidentally, Amazon sells another product designed to counter this...

    https://www.amazon.com/elope-335030-Elope-Groucho-Black/dp/B00412WY5C/
    Reply
  • anbello262
    Really dystopian, reminds me of Minority report but with a lot more accuracy (it won't use just yor eyes)
    But I'm part of the crowd who has partially given up, I feel it's time to just accept the fact that the near-future will include this on a daily basis, and I don't feel there¿s anything that can be done to avoid this side of technology.

    Therefore, I think it's more important to put more effort into minimizing corruption, so that all this information has the least negative impact possible.
    Reply
  • Olle P
    20993885 said:
    ... if you're a "protester" and not rioting you have nothing to worry, because you're not breaking any laws, ...
    It's the surveillors that break the law! (At least in Sweden, where it's generally illegal to register individual's religious faith and political beliefs.)

    It's also well known, in the UK, that the software currently used by the Police for facial recognition has a very high percentage of false positives.
    Keeping track of individual customers in a small store is much easier. I bet they'd run into trouble if they tried to run the store without any other customer identification than having the software matching the entering person to a library of previously registered customers.
    Reply
  • phonea21
    Illegal aliens are criminals with no rights at all so mentioning them with this is beyond stupid.
    Reply
  • TJ Hooker
    20993885 said:
    As much as I don't like facial recognition and tracking being used in public, if you're a "protester" and not rioting you have nothing to worry, because you're not breaking any laws
    Ah yes, the old 'if you're doing nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about' response to increasing government surveillance.

    The point being made isn't that this tech is going to be used to arrest people for simply participating in a protest. I believe the concern being expressed is that it could be used to identify protesters en masse and thereby associate individuals with a particular movement or ideology (based on the nature of the protest), and allow them to be potentially flagged for additional surveillance or monitoring. And at that point it's like when a cop car starts following you before you've done anything wrong: a) if they're determined it's only a matter of time until they find something they can pull you over for; and b) it's unethical and/or illegal.

    Maybe a little paranoid, but it wouldn't be the first time US government agencies have done something like that (e.g. COINTELPRO).
    Reply
  • TJ Hooker
    poisonpie said:
    if you're an "undocumented immigrant" (read: illegal alien) you don't have any civil rights, being illegal and all.

    20995770 said:
    Illegal aliens are criminals with no rights at all so mentioning them with this is beyond stupid.

    Illegal immigrants still have rights, although maybe not all the rights enjoyed by legal residents.
    http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2017/mar/29/florida-immigrant-coalition/do-undocumented-immigrants-have-constitutional-rig/

    Also, simply being in the USA unlawfully doesn't necessarily make you a criminal.
    http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2017/mar/15/florida-conference-catholic-bishops/being-united-states-unlawfully-crime/
    Reply
  • Co BIY
    Illegal aliens, women and minorities worst effected.

    The "illegal aliens worst effected" argument here is pretty silly since they are the least likely to have a matching photo in the giant government database, unless they are wanted for some crime for which the the government already has a photo.

    I believe ANBELLO262 is right to emphasis controlling corruption because we will not be able to prevent the development of the technology.
    Reply