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Security measure or Big Brother? Civil rights groups ask Amazon to stop selling its facial recognition system to law enforcement

Amazon on screen
Amazon on screen
LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

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The ACLU released an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Tuesday, demanding Amazon to “stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country.”

The technology, called Rekognition, was released in 2016 through Amazon’s cloud computing division. For a low price, it helps users identify people, objects, scenes and activities in videos or images. It’s been used by C-SPAN to quickly provide the names of lawmakers on screen and at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding to identify celebrity guests.

However, Amazon has also been providing the technology to law enforcement agencies, like the Orlando Police Department and Oregon’s Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

Proponents of its use in law enforcement say it’s a powerful tool to help departments recognize crime suspects in photos and videos. Critics say that allowing the government to use the technology in any capacity is a dangerous boost to surveillance that can’t be undone.

Would you feel comfortable with your local law enforcement using Amazon’s facial recognition system to scan images and videos in real time? Call us at 866-893-5722.


Russell Brandom, senior reporter at The Verge; he tweets @russellbrandom

Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which signed the ACLU’s open letter to Amazon; Jennifer founded the EFF’s Street Level Surveillance Project, which examines law enforcement use of surveillance technology  

Deputy Jeff Talbot, public information officer at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, one of the law enforcement agencies currently using Rekognition