Amazon asked to stop selling facial recognition technology to police npower electricity meter reading

The technology, called Rekognition, uses artificial intelligence to identify the objects, people, scenes, and more from images or videos. An Amazon executive touted public safety as a "common use case" for the technology in one presentation. For example, it can be used by law enforcement to recognize and track suspects or "persons of interest" in real time. According to Amazon’s website, later versions of the tool can identify up to 100 of the largest faces in an image, meaning it can pull out faces from a crowd.

"This product poses a grave threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build," the letter reads. "People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government. Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom."

In email correspondence with Amazon, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon said it has roughly 300,000 images in its jail booking photo database that it has uploaded to Rekognition. Those photos are used to compare against images of suspects from security cameras or pictures provided by citizens.

The Washington County Sheriff’s office said it was using Rekognition to search and identify unknown theft suspects, unconscious or deceased individuals, people of interest who don’t have identification, and leads for possible witnesses and accomplices, according to an email obtained by the ACLU.

Deputy Jeff Talbot, public information officer at Washington County Sheriff’s Office, said in an email to CNNMoney that the technology has been in use for over a year. "During that time, [we] have been transparent and forthcoming so the local public knows what it is, and equally importantly, what it is not."

He said "a facial recognition match alone, no matter the percentage match, does not establish probable cause to arrest a suspect" and added images used by the system are ones that have been legally obtained. The sheriff’s office pays between $6 and $12 per month to use the service.

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said, "Amazon requires that customers comply with the law and be responsible when they use [Amazon Web Services]. When we find that AWS services are being abused by a customer, we suspend that customer’s right to use our services."

Amazon, which announced the tech in November 2016 for customers of its cloud computing platform Amazon Web Services, has publicly disclosed that Rekognition customers include the city of Orlando, Florida, as well as the Washington County Sheriff‘s Office in Oregon.

Orlando police say they are trying out the technology. "The purpose of a pilot program such as this, is to address any concerns that arise as the new technology is tested. Any use of the system will be in accordance with current and applicable law," spokespeople for the department said.

Amazon’s promotional materials previously recommended law enforcement use Rekognition to identify people in police body camera footage, the ACLU said in a post. "The company removed mention of police body cameras from its site after the ACLU raised concerns in discussions with Amazon," according to the ACLU.