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Amazon’s plans for facial recognition doorbell concerns ACLU

Demonstrators hold images of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos near their faces during a Halloween-themed protest at Amazon headquarters over the company's facial recognition system, "Rekognition," Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Amazon has a video doorbell product called Ring, which allows you to see who’s at the door, and they’re talking about adding facial recognition to that. This has raised the concern of the ACLU.

“We see it [face surveillance] as a uniquely dangerous and game-changing technology that — at least at the present time — shouldn’t be sold to the government,” said Shankar Naryan, Director of the Technology and Liberty Project ACLU Washington. “Because it gives the government this unprecedented power to track people and surveil where they go and who they associate with across geographies and across time.”

“You can not drive your car and you can leave your cellphone at home, but you can’t leave your face at home.”

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Amazon is currently marketing their facial recognition product, Rekognition, to police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Naryan says the government wouldn’t have to choose who they follow around anymore, since the facial recognition technology layers on top of existing surveillance infrastructure.

In theory, the technology could be applied anywhere, including video feeds, body camera feeds, or drone footage.

With the Amazon Ring product, the worry is that police could potentially be able to access the faces of people who walked by the doorbell camera and match it to a database, reports the ACLU.

Homeowners would even be able to add “suspicious” faces to their database as well, and scan anyone who walks by for a match. Merely walking up to a door, or even within range in the distance, could result in being entered in a database.

“Right now, all we have to go on is Amazon’s say-so that they won’t provide that data to law enforcement. We don’t have any enforceable statutes,” Naryan said. “And of course, if you read the terms of service of many of these technologies, it often does say quite explicitly if the information is subpoenaed by law enforcement, they will simply provide it. That is a real concern.”

The technology being added to the doorbell camera is still a way off, and ideally it would only be used by the homeowners.

“But beyond that, there should be clear restrictions on providing the data to law enforcement, and for being used for other purposes than just securing that specific home.”

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