It was revealed publicly last week that law enforcement agents are using facial recognition technology marketed by Amazon to profile people in real time. It is being used in the Orlando, Fla., area as well as Washington County in Oregon and will soon be rolled out in more areas throughout the country. These developments serve as an example of the negative impact that corporate-public partnerships can have on our privacy rights.
Amazon is marketing technology called Rekognition to local police forces throughout the country. Because of the low cost of this software, there is nothing stopping it from being widely adopted in every locality across the U.S. Rekognition brings the cost of facial recognition down from tens of thousands of dollars to just a few dollars per month.
An Amazon developer Ranju Das told a conference in South Korea that Orlando had partnered with the company to implement a real-time facial recognition system.
“City of Orlando is a launch partner of ours. It’s a smart city. They have cameras all over the city. The authorized cameras are then streaming the data … we are a subscriber to the stream, we analyze the video in real time, search against the collection of faces they have.”
Das said the system can identify and track specific individuals – for instance, if they want to know if the mayor happens to be, the camera system can find him in real time. The system also allows law enforcement to reconstruct an individual’s past movements.
The American Civil Liberties Union is sounding the alarm about the potential dangers of this sophisticated technology.
“Amazon is handing governments a surveillance system primed for abuse,” Matt Cagle of the ACLU of Northern California said to NPR. “And that’s why we’re blowing the whistle right now.”
“Activating a real-time facial recognition system, that can track people, if the technology is there, could be as simple as flipping a switch in some communities,” he said.
Considering the federal data-sharing agreements that are currently in place, the potential for abuses is off the charts. Personal information belonging to hundreds of millions of Americans is regularly cataloged in various databases. This information, gathered on individuals from the earliest of ages because of Common Core and personalized learning platforms, becomes even more invasive when paired with real-time facial recognition programs.
The feds can share and tap into vast amounts of information gathered at the state and local level through a system known as the “information sharing environment” or ISE. In other words, local data collection using license plate readers, stingrays, body cameras and other technologies create the potential for the federal government to track the movement of millions of Americans, and obtain and store information on millions of Americans, including phone calls, emails, web browsing history and text messages, all with no warrant, no probable cause, and without the people even knowing it. Because of Rekognition, this treasure trove of data can readily be weaponized to create a digital caste system of social control like the Chinese government is developing.
Making matters worse, local police already have access to a mind-boggling array of surveillance equipment. As it now stands, many law enforcement agencies can obtain this high-tech, extremely intrusive technology without any approval or oversight. The federal government often provides grants and other funding sources for this spy-gear, meaning local governments can keep their purchase “off the books.” Members of the community, and even elected officials, often don’t know their police departments possess technology capable of sweeping up electronic data, phone calls and location information. We do not know the true power of Big Brother at the present time, which is all the more reason to take action to contain this technology at the state and local levels of government.
By requiring approval and placing the acquisition of spy gear in the public spotlight, local and state governments can take the first step toward limiting the surveillance state. The national Congress seems reticent to protect our privacy rights, but we have the plan of action to spur resistance at the lower levels of government. Legislation is passing in state legislatures around the country so let your state legislators know about what they can do to push-back against Big Brother before it’s too late.