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Re: Policy Brief No. 39

Policy Summary: In 2016, Amazon.com first announced a new facial recognition software item called “Rekognition” and subsequently gave the product to law enforcement in Washington County, Oregon and Orlando, Florida to test. The software program is designed, through the use of public cameras, to scan a crowd of people in photos and videos and instantly match the person to any database of photos (such as police department mugshot libraries). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, through a Freedom of Information Act request, determined that Amazon.com was actively marketing the software item to other law enforcement agencies. On May 22, 2018, forty-one organizations co – authored a letter sent to Mr. Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Amazon.com, Inc. The letter addressed the organizations concerns over Amazon.com’s marketing and potential sale of a facial recognition software  to government consumers. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Analysis: The announcement by the ACLU of what they had found out from the documents they acquired through their Freedom of Information Act request regarding the use of the “Rekognition” software raised serious privacy concerns all across the country. Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, called the sale of the software to law enforcement agencies “[A] recipe for authoritarianism and disaster.”

Facial recognition software is not new. The common practice of law enforcement agencies had been to use facial recognition software to compare separate photos, such as a photo from a crime scene against mugshot photos from a police department database, and see if there was a match. This new technology will allow law enforcement agencies to go one step further – it can now be used with real – time videos to make an instant match against a database of photos. A person may be walking down a street, at a concert, ball game or other mass event and the software can instantly recognize and match the person against a database of photos, such as DMV license/identification card pictures. The letter addressed to Mr. Jeff Bezos does not argue against the technology itself but raises concerns that this type of software is being marketed and targeted to law enforcement agencies. Due to the potential for abuse against minorities, immigrants, protesters and other groups that may not agree with the government at the moment, it is clear that this kind of technology needs to be regulated and deployed only under clear rules that safeguard the rights and liberties of American citizens. Since there is no legal framework yet that applies to this technology, the best approach may be to try and limit its sales to law enforcement agencies before too many agencies acquire it. One can only hope that Mr. Bezos and Amazon.com will adopt this approach. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Take Action:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – blogpost commenting on dangers of the item being sold by Amazon.com.

Electronic Frontier Foundation – non – profit group webpage on mass surveillance technology issues.

Electronic Privacy Information Center – non – profit group webpage on domestic surveillance issues.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org

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