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The Seattle Times reports that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has written to Amazon CEO/founder Jeff Bezos, asking him to end the sale of facial recognition software to various government entities, saying that the software represents “a troubling extension of the government’s ability to keep an eye on its citizens.”

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” the letter says. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom.”

According to the Times, “The letter is the latest flashpoint in an ongoing debate about the risk that increasingly powerful technologies making their way into law enforcement could trample civil liberties or otherwise invite abuse. Cities and civil liberties groups have clashed over surveillance tools like automatic vehicle license plate readers and software that turns cellular tower pings into location trackers, a debate that, in Seattle, led the city to scrap plans for surveillance drones and to dismantle a wireless mesh network of cameras and signal trackers.

“Meanwhile, advances in artificial intelligence and cloud-computing have yielded commercially available algorithms capable of quickly combing public and private databases to build a profile of people or, in the case of Amazon’s tool, scanning photos or video to find similarities between faces.”

And, the story says, “The letter was signed by representatives of several regional chapters of the ACLU as well as civil liberties groups, including internet freedom watchdog, the Electronic Freedom Foundation, and Human Rights Watch. Several signers, including Seattle-based One America and the Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, advocate for immigrants, refugees or racial groups that have historically been the victims of biased policing.”

Amazon says that its terms of service for the software requires users to comply with the law.
KC's View:
That’s so quaint … requiring software licensees to promise to comply with the law. Because people never break those promises.

Yeah, right.

To me, this whole thing is kind of creepy.

I know that modern problems require modern solutions. And I know Amazon isn’t the only company making such a product.But I would be extraordinarily concerned about this kind of software falling into the wrong hands, or being used in the wrong way.

And yes, I know this may seem inconsistent to some folks, who will argue that I have already given up all of my privacy by having an Alexa-based system in my home and office. But I’m creeped out by this.