Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union have revealed that police in both Orlando and Oregon’s Washington County are subscribed to Rekognition, Amazon’s facial recognition system.
Facial recognition has become commonplace over the past decade, with numerous social media networks and photo apps now able to automatically identify people in photographs.
When you’re tagging people in your photography app of choice, it’s a helpful time-saving feature, but in the hands of law enforcement the technology has much more insidious potential.
In fact, one use case was outlined by Rekognition’s project director at a recent technology conference (as reported by The Verge), where they described how video feeds from surveillance cameras in Orlando could be fed into the software in order to identify and track persons of interest.
In other words, you could be under facially aware video surveillance just by walking down the street in Orlando.
When does convenience become tyranny?
Part of the problem with technologies like this is that it becomes incredibly difficult to identify when legitimate police work stops and unjust surveillance begins.
After all, when an officer walks down the street, they are mentally doing the same work as this facial recognition software by keeping an eye out for known offenders or anyone that the police are currently interested in speaking to.
But by allowing technology to use the video feeds of potentially hundreds of cameras to do this work on the police’s behalf, this opens the doors for much greater levels of intrusion. It’s also the first step down a potentially slippery slope — at first it might be used to locate dangerous criminals, but once this is normalised it could be used to keep track on less urgent matters.
Eventually it might even become normal to expect any members of the public to be tracked, “just in case” they commit a crime in the future.
Reports like this are hence incredibly important to hold police authorities to account. The ACLU has called on Amazon to stop providing the software to police forces, and we’d hope that this leads to a re-appraisal of the use of this technology by organisations that are expected to answer to the public at the end of the day.
Do you think it’s okay for a police force to use facial recognition technology on people without their consent? Let us know @TrustedReviews.