Washington Country’s Sheriff Office was an early adopter of Amazon’s facial recognition software. Since early 2017 officers scanned around 20 people a day, comparing them to their database of past mug shots.
This might sound dystopian, mostly because it’s exactly the kind of thing that happens in dystopian novels. So it makes sense that an ACLU public records request and subsequent statement about the program resulted in stories about our county popping up in news outlets all over the world.
Here’s Elizabeth Dwoskin, writing for the Washington Post:
The sheriff’s office of Washington County, Ore., built a database of 300,000 mug shots of suspected criminals that officers could have Rekognition scan against footage of potential suspects in real-time. The footage could come from police body cameras and public and private cameras. The county pays Amazon between $6 and $12 a month for the service, a county spokesman said.
Dave Gershgorn, writing for Quartz, points out that officials were aware of the potential image problem this could pose:
County representatives expected public blowback if civil-rights organizations like the ACLU learned about use of the Amazon technology.
“Even though our software is being used to identify persons of interest from images provided to the [Sheriff’s Office], the perception might be that we are constantly checking faces from everything, kind of a Big Brother vibe,” a county employee, whose name was redacted, wrote t0 Amazon. “They are concerned that ACLU might consider this the government getting in bed with big data.”
I wonder why the ACLU might think that.
Anyway, here’s the complete ACLU Public Records Request, in PDF form. Let us know if you find anything we should follow up on.
- Amazon Pushes Facial Recognition to Police. Critics See Surveillance Risk Nick Winfield/New York Times
- Amazon Sold Powerful Facial Recognition Software to the Washington County Sheriff and Gresham Police Katie Shepherd/Willamette Week
- Amazon is selling police departments a real-time facial recognition system Russel Brandom/The Verge
- Amazon Is Selling Cheap, Real-Time Facial Recognition Technology to Cops Jason Koebler/Vice