Amazon has defended the use of its Amazon Web Services (AWS) technology to power US police facial recognition platforms, amid concern the firm is underpinning “authoritarian” policing techniques.
An open letter signed by over 40 civil rights groups yesterday (May 22), including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), slammed Amazon’s sale of its Rekognition software as “powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country.”
The letter also warned that the software, which Amazon claims can pinpoint ““all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports,” could be weaponized against minorities, immigrants and black activists – at a time when police-public relations are strained across the country.
But Amazon hit back with a statement defending the technology: “Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology…Imagine if customers couldn’t buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?”
Amazon had not hidden the use of Rekognition. But a freedom of information request by the ACLU revealed email exchanges between the company and police forces in the states of Oregon and Florida. In Oregon the tech powered a 300,000-strong database of mugshots, while Florida forces planned to use it with officers’ body-cams.
“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” wrote the letter. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it.”
The news comes amid increasing calls to limit the power of major technology companies in Europe and the US. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg apologized to the European Parliament yesterday for his firm’s role in misinformation campaigns that have rocked democracies on the continent.