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Oregon police using Amazon facial biometrics with suspect sketches and dead bodies


Police in Washington County, Oregon have used facial biometrics technology in attempts to identify dead bodies, unconscious suspects, people who refuse to identify themselves, and suspect sketches, the Washington Post reports.

The Washington County Sherriff’s Office (WCSO) uses Rekognition, as became widely known earlier this year when it was revealed that instead of following Amazon’s recommended 99 percent confidence threshold, it does not employ a confidence threshold. Police told a Post reporter invited for an inside look at the system that it has resulted in dozens of arrests. Records show that more than one thousand searches were made last year by more than 150 officers, and that the technology was mostly used to investigate minor crimes, though it has also been used to make arrests related to serious offences.

At the time it was reported that the system cost a $400 setup charge, followed by about $6 a month. The Post reports it was a $700 setup charge, and is $7 a month. The Post also reports that other departments have deployed systems built by Cognitec, IDEMIA, and NEC to match photos against state or FBI databases, though not necessarily as easily or for as low a cost.

The article credits WCSO Senior Information Systems Analyst Chris Adzima with designing the first implementation of Rekognition for law enforcement. Adzima told the post: “They didn’t really have a firm idea of any type of use cases in the real world, but they knew that they had a powerful tool that they created.” Adzima wrote about the application in an Amazon guest blog post in 2017.

Public defence lawyers in Oregon expressed concern to the Post about police experimentation with a system they do not fully understand, and the reliance on mug shots, which include innocent people.

“WCSO’s use of the suspect sketch was an experiment, and not part of the current system that is in use,” an Amazon spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement. “Regardless, we would expect that the results of any matches would be thoroughly reviewed by humans, that no automated action was taken, and that the reviewers would pay close attention to the confidence of any matches produced this way, in addition to the usual processes surrounding the use of sketches in law enforcement.”

A group of researchers issued the latest call for Amazon to stop selling facial recognition to law enforcement a month ago, and company shareholders are set to vote this month on a proposal to introduce checks on government agency use and release more information about the technology’s sale and use.

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