The US is Taking a Page out of China’s Surveillance Playbook, With the Help of Amazon

Back in May, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a nonprofit organization that defends individual rights and liberties, released public records that revealed that Amazon has been actively marketing its facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies. The records show that Amazon has already sold the software, which it calls Rekognition, to enforcement agencies and assisted them in deploying it.

In its reporting, the ACLU described the technology as “powerful and dangerous”. According to Amazon, the software can recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can identify, track, and analyze people in real time, as well as match the information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces.

A Recipe for Disaster

According to its marketing materials, Amazon views the deployment by law enforcement agencies as a “common use case” for its technology; the company also markets the technology as an efficient way to monitor people. Most worrying is the part where it says that Rekognition can monitor “all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places.”

Amazon particularly promoted the idea to apply Rekognition in police body cameras, meaning that those cameras, which were intended to help promote transparency and accountability, will turn into surveillance equipment.

Amazon Isn’t Alone

This is not the first time that a big tech company was caught working on controversial projects in conjunction with US authorities. Just last week, we reported that The Intercept uncovered documents that showed that AT&T facilities were housing NSA surveillance equipment.

Google was also infamously implicated in deals with governmental agencies, namely its involvement in the Pentagon’s Project Maven, which involved developing AI algorithms to analyze footage from military drones for the Department of Defense. Following an ensuing outcry, Google announced that it won’t be renewing its contract with the Pentagon.

Too Much Power

Granted, there are many real threats that can be thwarted with this kind of technology. Augmenting the capabilities of law enforcement agencies does inevitably lead to lower crime. But the critical consideration in this kind of situation is how much power is too much power. Privacy advocates, however, argue that a government that has overbearing surveillance power is too risky and could lead to disastrous consequences. What do you think? Do you think that we should limit the power of enforcement agencies? Can the risk be mitigated with legislation? Or should we governments have their way? Let us know in the comments.