Amazon votes to keep selling its controversial facial recognition software to police and governments despite growing privacy concerns

Amazon votes to keep selling its controversial facial recognition software to police and governments despite growing privacy concerns

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James Pero | The Daily Mail | Source URL

Amazon will continue to sell its controversial facial recognition software to law enforcement and other entities after its shareholders shot down a proposal to reel the technology in.  

The vote effectively kills two initiatives brought before Amazon's board.

One proposal would have required board approval to sell the software to governments, with approval only being given if the client meets certain standards of civil liberties.  

Another proposal called for a study on the technology's implications on rights and privacy.  

The exact breakdown of the vote is unclear and according to an Amazon representative it will only be made available via SEC filings later this week.

For a shareholder proposal to pass, it's required to receive at least 50 percent approval.   

However, if a failed vote is agreed to by 3 percent of board members or more, the initiative can be reintroduced. 

Amazon's vote comes amidst a growing level of scrutiny regarding Amazon's facial recognition software, called 'Rekognition,' which has found its way into the hands of law enforcement agencies and governments across the country. 

Police departments have deployed Amazon's tool to help track down suspects, using its ability to scan millions of images in just seconds to match images against with criminal databases.

While law enforcement has praised the tool for its help with expediting investigations, a recent string of reports have revealed a host of practices that critics and top civil rights organizations claim endanger privacy and put people at risk of being falsely accused.

Among the recent revelations are reports of detectives feeding Amazon's software or other programs like it with police sketches, digitally altered photos, and in some cases pictures of celebrity lookalikes, in an attempt to find and arrest suspects.  

In some instances, facial recognition software has been used by police in an attempt to match suspects faces with celebrity lookalikes.

The fact that there needed to be a vote on this is an embarrassment for Amazon's leadership team,' said Shankar Narayan, Director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Project in a statement to Mail Online.

'It demonstrates shareholders do not have confidence that company executives are properly understanding or addressing the civil and human rights impacts of its role in facilitating pervasive government surveillance.

'...This shareholder intervention should serve as a wake-up call for the company to reckon with the real harms of face surveillance and to change course,' he added. 

Amazon's decision to continue the unregulated sale of its Rekognition software comes as the US House of Representative's House Oversight Committee is hosting a first-of-its-kind hearing on the use and potential abuse of facial recognition technology.  

In the hearing, lawmakers spoke with a panel of experts on the potential threat and misuse of facial recognition.

Amazon sells 'Rekognition' to police departments and governments across the country. Critics say it could increase the risk of false identification.

'Members of Congress need to hit the pause button on law enforcement use of this dangerous surveillance technology,' said Neema Singh Guliani an ACLU senior legislative counsel in a testimony before the committee.

'They also need to use every oversight tool available to fully investigate and make public information on how federal agencies are using this surveillance technology, and how companies are aggressively marketing it to them. The public deserves transparency.' 

Critics have said minority populations are among those who are at a high risk of being improperly targeted by facial recognition systems. 

A recent MIT study found that facial recognition systems fail to properly identify faces with darker skin tones, largely as a result of the underlying algorithms being trained on mostly white male faces.  

In a demonstration from the ACLU last year, the organization used facial recognition software to scan the faces of various members of congress against 25,000 mugshots, resulting in 28 false matches.

Many of those mismatches were members of the Congressional Black Caucus, notes the ACLU.

Additionally, as backlash against facial recognition tech continues to rise, some officials have taken it upon themselves to begin banning its use by governments and law enforcement. 

Earlier this month, San Francisco became the first city to ban the technology. 

How facial recognition technology uses 80 nodal points to match real time images with previous photos

A different smart surveillance system (pictured)  can scan 2 billion faces within seconds has been revealed in China. The system connects to millions of CCTV cameras and uses artificial intelligence to pick out targets. The military is working on applying a similar version of this with AI to track people across the country 

Facial recognition software works by matching real time images to a previous photograph of a person. 

Each face has approximately 80 unique nodal points across the eyes, nose, cheeky and mouth which distinguish one person from another. 

A digital video camera measures the distance between various points on the human face, such as the width of the nose, depth of the eye sockets, distance between the eyes and shape of the jawline.

This produces a unique numerical code that can then be linked with a matching code gleaned from a previous photograph.

A facial recognition system used by officials in China connects to millions of CCTV cameras and uses artificial intelligence to pick out targets.

Experts believe that facial recognition technology will soon overtake fingerprint technology as the most effective way to identify people. 

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