The revelation this week that Amazon is selling facial-recognition technology–branded Amazon Rekognition–to law enforcement agencies raised questions about which laws or regulations govern police use of the technology. The answer: more or less none, reports Wired. More than two dozen nonprofits wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to ask that he stop selling its technology to police, after the ACLU of Northern California revealed documents to shine light on the sales. Amazon says its technology can “identify persons of interest against a collection of millions of faces in real-time.” The letter argues that Amazon Rekognition “is primed for abuse in the hands of governments.”
State and federal laws generally leave police departments free to do things like search video or images collected from public cameras for particular faces. Cities and local departments can set their own policies and guidelines, but even some early adopters of the technology haven’t done so. Documents released by the ACLU show that Orlando, Fla., worked with Amazon to build a system that detects “persons of interest” using eight public-security cameras. “Since this is a pilot program, a policy has not been written,” a city spokesperson said when asked about guidelines for its use. “This is a perfect example of technology outpacing the law,” says Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “There are no rules.” Other companies offer similar technology, including Massachusetts-based MorphoTrust, which works with the FBI, and South Carolina’s Data Works Plus, which has worked with Detroit police.