Automated Facial Recognition: Menace, Farce or Both?

Posted on May 31, 2018

Automated Facial Recognition: Menace, Farce or Both?

In its letter, the ACLU argues that Amazon, which has in the past opposed secret government surveillance, should not be in the business of selling AFR technology that the company claims can “identify people in real-time by instantaneously searching databases containing tens of millions of faces.” Further, the ACLU insists, Rekognition’s capability to track “persons of interest,” coupled with its other features which “read like a user manual for authoritarian surveillance,” lends itself to the violation and abuse of individuals’ civil rights. Amazon naturally disagrees.

It respondedto the letter with a statement that says: 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? Like any of our AWS services, we require our customers to comply with the law and be responsible when using Amazon Rekognition.

Amazon’s response, of course, begs the question of how would it know that its technology was being “abused,” especially because there are few laws defining specifically how automated facial recognition can or cannot be used? Georgetown University published a study a few years ago titled, The Perpetual Line-up: Unregulated Police Facial Recognition in America. The report revealed that nearly half the adults in the United States are already in some law enforcement AFR networks.

It alsoshowed just how few regulations are in place to ensure that AFR is not being used improperly.