Facial Recognition by Amazon – Convenience or Nuisance?

Amazon Rekognition recently announced real-time facial recognition feature that also identifies text in an image. It can detect up to a hundred different faces in a crowded photo! While this makes things convenient, it can also help governments in tracking and controlling the moves of their citizens. With an accurate facial recognition system that can recognize everyone everywhere, privacy will become a thing of the past. The dangerous part of it is that some facial recognition systems have a shockingly high accuracy of as much as 98%. This means you can be easily tracked – and that too by software. They don’t need real people. Mass surveillance can become much, much cheaper. This technology can help those governments that want to control their citizens – and that’s almost all governments around the world.

Facial Recognition by Amazon – Convenience or Nuisance?

Facial Recognition by Amazon – Convenience or Nuisance?

Amazon Rekognition – Some Details

Amazon Rekognition is an artificial intelligence program that can learn quickly and efficiently and can even process images and videos. It can be used for various applications including image analysis, text recognition, facial recognition, and finding and flagging inappropriate content.

Amazon claims that their system can run face searches in real time and compare them with millions of faces. So now you can scan for one face in a million faces – and that too in real time and get accurate results. This can be a good option for crime prevention. But it can also be used for surveillance.

Used by the Authorities

Amazon Rekognition is used by Orlando police to recognize faces in municipal surveillance systems. It helps them compare mugshots in real time on the camera network that runs through the city.

Since the regular cameras cannot recognize individual faces and find criminals, they use the recent offering by Amazon to compare and find the people they want.

However, security enthusiasts say that people should have enough privacy to walk down the street without being watched.

If It’s Used to Catch Criminals, What’s So Bad About It?

There’s only a thin line between catching criminals and running a mass surveillance program. Let’s see the example of some countries where such systems are used to control their people.

Russia’s Mass Surveillance

In 2017, the local government in Moscow announced that they use the live facial recognition technology on the network of 160,000 CCTV cameras. These cameras cover as much as 95% of all residential entrances in the city.

Facial recognition is used on these cameras to recognize people. This is authorized by law and the government is free to use this technology.

Chinese Surveillance Programs

China’s surveillance policies are often criticized by human right supporters. With the new live facial recognition feature, authorities can track any particular citizen seamlessly throughout the city. It’s easy to recognize vehicles as well.

There are over 170 million CCTV cameras across China. In March 2018, they launched a program called Skynet. They upgraded the security cameras and they are now able to identify and monitor citizens almost across the country. And it takes just a second to do that.

And that’s not all. Chinese developers have come up with special sunglasses that allow the police to identify people as they patrol the outskirts of Beijing. This technology is being used in identifying and directly texting jaywalkers and fining them.

While the officials claim that this technology is to find criminals only, ethnic minorities are often targeted.

The United States Private Surveillance

In the United States, stadiums and outdoor spaces are often under private ownership. The Madison Square Garden made use of live facial recognition technology on their viewers in 2018. This was done without the visitors’ knowledge or consent.

In the US, live facial recognition is still unregulated. This is why private building owners are still free to use this technology. However, this crashes with the citizens’ rights and needs to be addressed.

It should be noted that the USA already has legislation in place that allows the government to perform warrantless surveillance on its citizens.

How Safe Is It?

It’s important to realize here that the government staff employed in the surveillance programs are humans and can use the program for their own personal interests. An employee can use this system to stalk someone. This can lead to dangerous situations for unsuspecting citizens.

Surveillance done by private individuals such as owners of stadiums cannot be called ethical. Citizens should have right over the kind of information they want to be made public.

Amazon Rekognition is another real-time facial recognition tool that can be used for mass surveillance very easily. It was launched in 2016 and is used by platforms like Pinterest for the purpose of object recognition.

While the technology has several obvious disadvantages, Amazon wants to take Rekognition to new levels. In their recent update, they have added text in image feature to it. Amazon believes that there are several useful applications of this technology in the real world.

One striking feature of this technology is that it is super cheap. So it can be used not just by the government but also by people. If not regulated properly, live facial recognition can easily be used for stalking and spying.

What seems to be a groundbreaking crime detection technology can easily become a nightmare. It’s important for governments all over the world to regulate it so that it’s not easily available to common people. The problem is – Rekognition is currently open to all.

While Amazon has claimed that they will suspend the accounts of people who are found to use it irresponsibly, will they be able to control a plethora of hackers and spies they might accidentally unleash upon the common people?


Amazon Rekognition is a groundbreaking technology that can recognize objects and people in live videos. Used with CCTV cameras of a city, it can be used to stalk unsuspecting victims. Many countries including the US are already using this technology.

It’s very important to regulate this technology. While government claim that they use this technology to fight crime, it can also be used by stalkers, hackers, and kidnappers. If the technology is openly available, it can lead to havoc. Since it’s still in its nascent stage, only time will tell how it turns out to be.

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