If this was a boxing match, we might hear the announcer say something like this:
"In corner number one, a powerful and little known facial recognition service from Amazon... which law enforcement is using to catch bad guys, and amusement parks are using to find lost kids. Its name is "Rekognition!"
You can almost hear the crowd cheering, can't you? Well, it's a mixture, really, of cheers and boos.
"And in corner number two, privacy advocates and the ACLU, holding the letter they just sent to Amazon about the recognition service the company is selling to law enforcement."
They scream the letter into the microphone: "Amazon says Rekognition can be used to identify 'all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports. Amazon Rekognition is primed for abuse in the hands of governments. This product poses a grave threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build!'"
More cheers and more boos.
Rekognition is not very well known, but it is a powerful video and analysis tool used by organizations from Pinterest to your local police department.
And a Sheriff's department just a few miles from SecureWorld headquarters near Portland, Oregon, is using this service right now, and wrote a blog post about how easy it was to upload and search some 300,000 booking photos of suspects and convicted criminals.
Chris Adzima, a Senior Information Systems Analyst for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, says the old way of tracking a person of interest was to show a surveillance photo to multiple deputies, hoping someone recognized that person. And using Amazon's Rekognition has meant an incredible shift:
"In Washington County, Oregon, there are nearly 20,000 different bookings (when a person is processed into the jail) every year. As time passes, officers’ memories of individual bookings fade. Also, in most cases, investigations move very quickly. Waiting for an officer to come on duty to identify a picture might mean missing the opportunity to solve the case."
Now the department has had many successful cases of quickly identifying someone by getting a 'hit' through Amazon's AI service.
It's kind of like what you see happen on an episode of CSI. That level of recognition power is finally happening.
And the ACLU wants Amazon to stop offering that power to government and law enforcement.
"People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government. Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it. The federal government could use this facial recognition technology to continuously track immigrants as they embark on new lives. Local police could use it to identify political protesters captured by officer body cameras. With Rekognition, Amazon delivers these dangerous surveillance powers directly to the government."
Forbes first reported on this story, and Amazon responded to that story:
"Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology. Imagine if customers couldn't buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes? Like any of our AWS services, we require our customers to comply with the law and be responsible when using Amazon Rekognition."
It's hard to say who will win this boxing match, Amazon or the ACLU.
But they are both powerful enough to be standing at the end of this fight.