Amazon has dismissed concerns raised by civil liberties campaigners over its sharing of facial recognition technology with US police forces, amidst concern that the technique could fuel growth of authoritarianism.
A chorus of voices led by The American Civil Liberties Union have emerged in opposition to the hi-tech tie-up, which sees the ecommerce giant share a user guide for its Rekognition software - a proprietary technology employing Amazon’s cloud computing arm, Amazon Web Services.
Amazon contends that it makes no sense to block emerging technologies solely on the fear of how they might be misused in future, pointing out that our ‘quality of life would be much worse’ if we failed to capitalise on the potential benefits.
These include tracking lost children and other missing persons as well as tracing crime suspects. In a statement Amazon retorted: “Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology," Amazon said in a statement.
"Imagine if customers couldn't buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?”
Adopting a glass half-empty view in contrast the ACLU warns that the software guide reads like a ‘manual for authoritarian surveillance’, warning that officers in Oregon now have access to a database of 300,000 mugshots – enabling them to cross reference people’s faces for criminal records via their mobile phones.
Concern has also been raised about the possibility of migrating the technology to wearable body cameras, a move which the ACLU warns would transform officers into ‘surveillance machines’.
Last year the ACLU took over New York's Times Square with a spirited defence of the First Amendment.