When Wales takes on Ireland in the Six Nations rugby championship Saturday, Big Brother will be watching. Fans filing into the stadium in Cardiff will be scanned with facial recognition software as part of a police trial of the technology. Should any of their faces match a database of potential suspects, officers will be standing by, ready to swoop. It's the kind of indiscriminate mass surveillance that would be expected, in ordinary times, to be the subject of fierce debate in the U.K., as journalists and politicians fought over the proper balance between privacy and security. Instead, trial runs like the one in South Wales are taking place largely unchallenged by parliament.
Amazon.com's facial recognition tools incorrectly identified Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and 27 other members of Congress as people arrested for a crime during a test commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the watchdog said Thursday. The ACLU said its findings show that Amazon's so-called Rekognition technology -- already in use at law-enforcement agencies in Oregon and Orlando -- is hampered by inaccuracies that disproportionately put people of color at risk and should prompt regulators to halt "law enforcement use of face surveillance." Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post. For its test, the ACLU of Northern California created a database of 25,000 publicly available arrest photos, though the civil liberties watchdog did not give details about where it obtained the images or the kinds of individuals in the photos. It then used Amazon's Rekognition software to compare that database against photos of every member of the U.S. House and Senate.
What is AI? Everything you need to know about Artificial Intelligence As lawmakers consider ways to ensure that nascent facial recognition tools don't curtail civil liberties, Amazon is stepping in with a few suggestions. The Seattle tech giant on Thursday published a blog post with five proposed guidelines for the responsible use of facial recognition technology. The suggestions come at a delicate time for Amazon: The company in the past year has come under fire for selling Rekognition, an image recognition and analysis service, to law enforcement agencies, even though researchers claim it shows gender and ethnic biases. Meanwhile, in the absence of federal rules, lawmakers in Amazon's home state of Washington are considering their own bill to regulate facial recognition use. Microsoft -- also headquartered in Washington state, is actively lobbying for the state bill -- Bloomberg reports.
When Lockport City School District in New York announced it was planning on using the technology, the New York Civil Liberties Union came out against the move, calling the cameras "invasive and error-prone," and raising concerns about children's privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas similarly condemned a move by an Arkansas school district to install cameras equipped with facial recognition, nothing they could be vulnerable to hacking.
The ethical dilemma swirling around facial recognition technology has prompted Google to hit pause on selling its own system to the public. On Thursday, Google's Cloud business said it was holding off on offering a facial recognition system for general-purposes, citing the potential for abuse. "We continue to work with many organizations to identify and address these challenges, and unlike some other companies, Google Cloud has chosen not to offer general-purpose facial recognition APIs before working through important technology and policy questions," company Vice President of Global Affairs Kent Walker wrote in a Thursday blog post. Walker's statement was likely a subtle jab toward Amazon, which has been offering a facial recognition system to customers, including US law enforcement. Amazon's system, dubbed Rekognition, can identify people's faces in digital images and videos, making it useful for police to quickly look up suspects in criminal investigations.