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Friday, June 22, 2018

As Amazon Employees Protest Company's Sale of Facial Recognition Software to Law Enforcement, Steve Loomis Defends Practice

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2018 at 1:06 PM

Amazon employees this week penned an open letter to Jeff Bezos protesting the company's sale of facial recognition software (Rekognition) to law enforcement agencies and its sale of Amazon's cloud services to Palantir, a firm that provides software to ICE, in both cases citing privacy and civil rights concerns.

The letter referenced the possible misuse and abuse of the software against immigrants, African-American activists, and other vulnerable groups.

"We are troubled by the recent report from the ACLU exposing our company’s practice of selling AWS Rekognition, a powerful facial recognition technology, to police departments and government agencies," it read. "We don’t have to wait to find out how these technologies will be used. We already know that in the midst of historic militarization of police, renewed targeting of Black activists, and the growth of a federal deportation force currently engaged in human rights abuses — this will be another powerful tool for the surveillance state, and ultimately serve to harm the most marginalized. We are not alone in this view: over 40 civil rights organizations signed an open letter in opposition to the governmental use of facial recognition, while over 150,000 individuals signed another petition delivered by the ACLU...

"Our company should not be in the surveillance business; we should not be in the policing business; we should not be in the business of supporting those who monitor and oppress marginalized populations."

The sale of Rekognition to law enforcement agencies was first reported by the ACLU in May.

Marketing materials and documents obtained by ACLU affiliates in three states reveal a product that can be readily used to violate civil liberties and civil rights. Powered by artificial intelligence, Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces, according to Amazon.

Amazon is marketing Rekognition for government surveillance. According to its marketing materials, it views deployment by law enforcement agencies as a “common use case” for this technology. Among other features, the company’s materials describe “person tracking” as an “easy and accurate” way to investigate and monitor people. Amazon says Rekognition can be used to identify “people of interest,” raising the possibility that those labeled suspicious by governments — such as undocumented immigrants or Black activists — will be seen as fair game for Rekognition surveillance. It also says Rekognition can monitor “all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports,” at a time when Americans are joining public protests at unprecedented levels. 
Former Cleveland police union president Steve Loomis popped by Fox Business earlier this week to discuss the issue, naturally coming down on the side of It's No Big Deal. (Good to see Steve is still getting media work after being ousted as union president late last year.)

"Not at a local level," Loomis said. "It's the same concerns you heard about fingerprinting, the same as DNA, now everyone arrested for a felony has DNA taken, it's all the same arguments. As for targeting a specific race, absolutely not. It would target bad guys and make law-abiding citizens safer."

Asked specifically how deploying facial recognition would make citizens safer, he didn't have a very specific answer, but he did have some Back in My Day thoughts.

"It allows you to pinpoint who a person is," he said. "When I came on the job 25 years ago, you had to trust someone when they told you who they were. Now we have computers in cars and you can get a picture and verify who they are. This is almost real time, whether it's as a suspect, whether it's a runaway child, it has all kinds of applications. It's not to target protestors. No cop in this country cares about what people are protesting; we care about their right to protest."

That's a charming bold-faced lie, of course, and a rich claim coming from a member of the department that arrested 71 people during protests of the Michael Brelo verdict (at least 50 of whom were nonviolent protestors who were quickly released the next business day) and packed them on a bus simply as a means to end the peaceful demonstrations.

Watch the clip here if you want full sound and color.

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