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Amazon of 2 minds with law enforcement deals – fleeing locally, selling federally

Amazon of 2 minds with law enforcement deals – fleeing locally, selling federally

This week brought news that Amazon, on the one hand, appears to be selling AI services to the FBI, and on the other, curtailing Ring video access for local police.

There may be a business strategy through-line for Amazon between the two developments, but it isn’t visible at the moment.

Amazon’s request-for-assistant service, one of the Ring doorbell services, had been used by local police and firefighters to ask Amazon for access to a Ring owner’s video feed without warrants. The service made those devices de facto municipal surveillance network nodes.

But no longer.

A post on Ring.com states that public safety agencies will have to scroll through posts on the Ring Neighbors app for information the same as system owners. If officials want access to cameras and videos not uploaded, they will have to get warrants or subpoenas.

The agencies still will be free to publish information in the Neighbors app.

The request-for-assistance service has drawn criticism from some customers, privacy advocates and government watchdogs for its indiscriminate harvesting of facial and behavioral identifiers without warning or consent.

But Amazon appears to be of a different mind when it comes to selling to the FBI.

In a nice bit of investigative reporting, IT trade publication FedScoop says it has learned that Amazon is working with the FBI on a project involving Rekognition.

Rekognition’s tool kit includes AI algorithms that include facial recognition, but FedScoop’s reporting was unable to determine if the nascent FBI project involves face biometrics.

Still, the project seems to contradict previous Amazon executives’ 2020 stated commitment that they would not make Rekognition available to law enforcement. Originally a one-year prohibition, the moratorium later was left open-ended.

(Amazon has published developer policy guidelines for creating public safety products deriving from Rekognition.)

On the third page of an AI project chart on the Department of Justice’s site is one called Project Tyr involving Rekognition. The computer-vision software was bought off the shelf from an unnamed third party.

Summarizing the use case, the Justice Department document says the government is customizing the software to “review and identify items containing nudity, weapons, explosives, and other identifying information.”

Under a question about where the project’s training data come from, the document states, “To be determined, in collaboration with” Amazon’s Web Services. The same response is given to a request about the public availability of source code.

Project Tyr follows rules created in a 2020 White House executive order pushing the federal government’s use of trustworthy AI, according to the Justice Department.

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