[UPDATE January 29, 2024 17:05 pm CET] Duncan Neasham from the Amazon Web Service's PR Team has reached out to clarify the extend of how Rekognition is used by the FBI:
“We imposed a moratorium on police departments' use of Amazon Rekognition's face comparison feature in connection with criminal investigations in June 2020, and to suggest we have relaxed this moratorium is false. Rekognition is an image and video analysis service that has many non-facial analysis and comparison features. Nothing in the Department of Justice's disclosure indicates the FBI is violating the moratorium in any way.”
“As we've said many times, and continue to believe strongly, companies and government organizations need to use existing and new technology responsibly and lawfully. We also believe that governments should put in place regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and we are ready to help them design appropriate rules, if requested.”
[January 29, 2024 2:05 pm CET] The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has confirmed its initiative to employ Amazon's Rekognition cloud service for the analysis of legally obtained visual content. The technology is aimed at identifying specific types of content such as nudity, weaponry, and explosives. Named Project Tyr, the effort is documented as being in the ‘initiation' stage within the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) Agency Inventory of AI Use Cases.
Amazon's Rekognition at the Heart of Controversy
The selection of Amazon's Rekognition software by the FBI has been met with mixed reactions due to the tool's contentious background. The service offers various recognition capabilities, including facial recognition, object detection, and filtering of “inappropriate, unwanted, or offensive content.” Despite Amazon's prior commitment to halting law enforcement's use of Rekognition for facial recognition purposes indefinitely, this commitment did not extend to other government agencies or third parties, which may in turn collaborate with law enforcement.
Privacy Concerns and Corporate Responses
The partnership between Amazon and the FBI on visual content analysis has reignited debates and concerns regarding warrantless surveillance and the expansive use of facial recognition technologies. In the midst of privacy advocates' outcry, Amazon has taken steps to limit the unfettered access of law enforcement to user data by discontinuing the “Request for Assistance” feature in its Neighbors app, which allowed police to access recorded footage from Ring devices without a warrant. Advocacy groups, such as Fight for the Future, have acknowledged Amazon's action as a step forward in protecting civil liberties.
The use of Rekognition by the FBI raises questions about the adequacy of existing policies and the need for federal regulation pertaining to such technologies. While the specifics of Amazon's statement in response to inquiries are awaited, stakeholders in privacy and surveillance, including the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), are closely monitoring the situation, emphasizing the need for stringent oversight given the FBI's history of facial recognition use and the potential risks inherent in such powerful tools.