The use of facial recognition technology is spreading rapidly, from airports to border crossings to even helping find pets. Now, law enforcement is getting in on the act, with help from online behemoth Amazon. A handful of police departments around the country are adopting Amazon's face recognition tool, called Rekognition, to help with solving cases and catching criminals.
While many departments see it as a cost-effective way to improve their efficiency and performance, many outside law enforcement disagree. Recently, the ACLU and a group of privacy advocates sent a letter to Amazon asking the company to stop marketing and selling the Rekognition technology to police. The letter cited potential privacy violations and abuses of the technology to spy on innocent people, saying "People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government."
Houston Police are not using facial recognition technology yet, but they are definitely open to it. "Everyone is asking us to do more with less, and here we have a piece of technology that can help us identify robbery suspects, murder suspects, terrorists...and this technology is not overly expensive," says Joe Gamaldi, president of the Houston Police Officers Union. "This could certainly be a force-multiplier for our department to help us look for lost children, or even for lost seniors."
Gamaldi tells KTRH that facial recognition technology could be especially useful for departments like the HPD. "When we're facing the largest manpower crisis in the history of the Houston Police Department, we are open to new technology and new ideas that can help us do our job better," he says.
As for the critics who claim this technology will erode civil rights and lead to abuses, Gamaldi expresses frustration that there's no way to please everyone. "Everyone wants us to be more accurate in our job," he says. "At some point, people have to understand that we have a job to do, and you either want us to do it to the best of our ability, or you want to continue to hamstring us. Which one do you want?"