The DeX Files: Amazonian Surveillance

NEWS: Amazon is retailing facial recognition services to police departments. The ACLU is not happy about it.

“Amazon is already working with customers to implement Rekognition, providing troubleshooting and consulting services. Records requests to two Rekognition customers—the city of Orlando and Oregon’s Washington County Sheriff’s Office—suggest that neither municipality notified the public or implemented rules for the service’s use to protect citizens’ civil rights. Internal emails show that at least one employee in Washington County warned that the “ACLU might consider this the government getting in bed with big data.”

The technology is ripe for abuse, according to the ACLU.”

“Amazon Markets Surveillance Technology to Law Enforcement” | Pacific Standard | Kate Wheeling | 05/22/2018


1) It’s apparent now that whatever authoritarian technology is unleashed in China will be at least be considered or workshopped in America within a year or two. An example from 2016 is “Chinese Researchers Invent New Police Car That Can Scan Criminals’ Faces.” But facial recognition in China was last year’s news. This year’s parade of Big Brother moves includes the truly Orwellian social credit initiative as well as employers and the military monitoring the brainwaves of workers and soldiers in order to maximize productivity and profits.

2) We’re in the midst of what some are calling The Great Crime Decline. Crime levels were high from the 70s through the 90s. Then crime rates started falling. By 2014, the homicide rate was 4.5 per 100K people, the lowest in 50 years. If we’re safer because police are better than they used to be at policing, why do we need more police, more laws, more surveillance, more secrecy, and more technology meant to control us? If things are getting better for us, isn’t that a prima facie case for less, not more control? If there are people out there fighting for our freedom, why do we feel less free?

3) Part of the answer to 2) is an ideological shift that occurred after 9/11. Before then the primary functions of police departments were to fight crime and enforce the law. After 9/11, police officers assumed the tremendous but amorphous task of “keeping us safe.” How many times have we heard that phrase from politicians and newscasters while hardly appreciating the major shift that occurred in how we’ve thought about what we expect from the police? Fighting crime and enforcing the law requires someone breaking the law. But “keeping us safe” is ultimately about perceived (and now predicted) threats that may never materialize but nevertheless require a vigilance that justifies itself once we accept it. Necessarily, more perceived or potential threats than real account significantly for the increased level of surveillance we’ve seen since 2001. We can expect to see more once the computers know all our faces.

Further reading:

“Xi Jinping says China’s authoritarian system can be a model for the world” | QZ

“Oakland passes groundbreaking municipal law requiring citizen oversight of local surveillance” | Boing Boing

“China’s social credit system has blocked people from taking 11 million flights and 4 million train trips” | Business Insider


IMAGE SOURCE: Security_Camera_Black&White_Surveillance (Creative Commons)

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