In Washington County, Oregon, sheriff's deputies use a mobile app to send photos of suspects to Amazon's cloud computing service. The e-commerce giant's algorithms check those faces against a database of tens of thousands of mugshots, using Amazon's Rekognition image analysis service. Such use of facial recognition by law enforcement is essentially unregulated. But some developers of the technology want to change that. In a blog post Thursday, Amazon asked Congress to put some rules around the use of the technology, echoing a call by Microsoft in December.
Who will guard the guards? Amazon has released guidelines for facial recognition software that it wants lawmakers to consider when crafting legislation. With the post, Amazon joins Microsoft in calling for regulation of the technology, and notably, its application in law enforcement. SEE ALSO: Amazon's Ring has been reportedly spying on customers Notably, as the ACLU points out, Amazon's suggestions place the burden of "misuse" of the technology onto the people using the tech -- not onto the manufacturer, Amazon. "Proposing a weak framework does not absolve Amazon of responsibility for its face surveillance product," Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU senior legislative counsel, told Mashable over email.
It's unclear how many law-enforcement groups are currently using Amazon's technology; it has been used by police departments in Florida and Oregon. An Amazon spokesperson said the company doesn't share customers' names or use cases without their permission. The company also said it supports "calls for an appropriate national legislative framework that protects individual civil rights and ensures that governments are transparent in their use of facial recognition technology." Amazon is the latest major tech company to indicate its support for such legislation. Microsoft has also said it is in favor of laws that regulate how facial-recognition technology can be used.
Last week, Amazon made the unexpected move of calling for regulation on facial recognition. In a blog post published on Thursday, Michael Punke, VP of global public policy at Amazon Web Services, expressed support for a "national legislative framework that protects individual civil rights and ensures that governments are transparent in their use of facial recognition technology." Facial recognition is one of the fastest-growing areas of the artificial intelligence industry. It has drawn interest from both the public and private sector and is already worth billions of dollars. Amazon has been moving fast to establish itself as a leader in facial recognition technology, actively marketing its Rekognition service to different customers, including law enforcement agencies.
Facial recognition technology significantly reduces the amount of time it takes to identify people or objects in photos and video. This makes it a powerful tool for business purposes, but just as importantly, for law enforcement and government agencies to catch criminals, prevent crime, and find missing people. We've already seen the technology used to prevent human trafficking, reunite missing children with their parents, improve the physical security of a facility by automating access, and moderate offensive and illegal imagery posted online for removal. Our communities are safer and better equipped to help in emergencies when we have the latest technology, including facial recognition technology, in our toolkit. In recent months, concerns have been raised about how facial recognition could be used to discriminate and violate civil rights.