At the end of each summer for the last 14 years, the small Welsh town of Porthcawl has been invaded. Every year its 16,000 population is swamped by up to 35,000 Elvis fans. Many people attending the yearly festival look the same: they slick back their hair, throw on oversized sunglasses and don white flares. At 2017's Elvis festival, impersonators were faced with something different. Police were trialling automated facial recognition technology to track down criminals.
Amazon's facial recognition technology, Rekognition, continues to cause controversy. In documents recently obtained by BuzzFeed News, we now have a behind-the-scenes look at how Orlando police have been using the technology. After the city let the original pilot program expire after public outcry, Orlando started a second pilot program with an "increased" number of face-scanning cameras. Amazon's Rekognition is described broadly as a visual analysis tool. But, deployed by law enforcement, it can scan faces caught on camera and match them against faces in criminal databases.
If you're reading this in the United States, there's a 50 percent chance that a photo of your face is in at least one database used in police facial-recognition systems. Police departments in nearly half of U.S. states can use facial-recognition software to compare surveillance images with databases of ID photos or mugshots. Some departments only use facial-recognition to confirm the identity of a suspect who's been detained; others continuously analyze footage from surveillance cameras to determine exactly who is walking by at any particular moment. Altogether, more than 117 million American adults are subject to face-scanning systems. These findings were published Tuesday in a report from Georgetown Law's Center for Privacy and Technology.
Federal police in Germany want you to hand over your face, but you'll get to do a little shopping in return. German police want 275 volunteers to participate in a facial recognition beta test. For the test, the police are asking participants to visit the Berlin Südkreuz train station several times a day, and the folks who visit the most during the six-month testing period are eligible for "one of three attractive prizes": an AppleTalk Series 2, a Fitbit Surge, and a GoPro Hero session. "In the future, the facial recognition software is to recognize and report detected users or persons from whom a danger could arise or emerge," explains the German federal police, according to a Chrome translation of their website. "Operators can subsequently take targeted action against the person within the scope of the legal possibilities."