Amazon Grants Authoritarian Facial Recognition Technology to Police

Another reminder that Amazon doesn’t care about its harmful effects on communities. Its CEO is the world’s richest person, yet its workers often work in horrible conditions for pay that’s low enough to make them request food stamps in order to survive. And in terms of the facial recognition technology, it increases repression in communities by allowing police to increase their targeting of vulnerable minority groups.

After internal emails (pdf) published by the ACLU on Tuesday revealed that Amazon has been aggressively selling its facial recognition product to law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S., privacy advocates and civil libertarians raised grave concerns that the retailer is effectively handing out a “user manual for authoritarian surveillance” that could be deployed by governments to track protesters, spy on immigrants and minorities, and crush dissent.

“We know that putting this technology into the hands of already brutal and unaccountable law enforcement agencies places both democracy and dissidence at great risk,” Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, said in a statement in response to the ACLU’s findings. “Amazon should never be in the business of aiding and abetting racial discrimination and xenophobia—but that’s exactly what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is doing.”

First unveiled in 2016, “Rekognition” was explicitly marketed by Amazon as a tool for “tracking people,” and it has already been put to use by law enforcement agencies in Florida and Oregon.

While Amazon suggests in its marketing materials that Rekognition can be used to track down “people of interest” in criminal cases, ACLU and dozens of pro-privacy groups argued in a letter (pdf) to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Tuesday that the product is “primed for abuse in the hands of governments” and poses a “grave threat” to marginalized groups and dissidents.

Highlighting “the possibility that those labeled suspicious by governments—such as undocumented immigrants or black activists—will be targeted for Rekognition surveillance,” the coalition of advocacy groups urged Amazon to “act swiftly to stand up for civil rights and civil liberties, including those of its own customers, and take Rekognition off the table for governments.”

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” the groups concluded. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it.”

The ACLU investigation found that Amazon has not been content to simply market and sell Rekognition to law enforcement agencies—it is also offering “company resources to help government agencies deploy” the tool.

Amazon Patents Wristband that Tracks Movements of Warehouse Workers

These wristbands would increase worker repression levels that are already far too high. Amazon’s CEO is the richest person in the world by net worth, but he still insists on mistreating his workers in their quasi-totalitarian workplaces.

Amazon’s CEO could simply sell $1 billion of stock and give a $2,000 bonus to Amazon’s 500,000 employees, and that’s only one example of what could be done to remedy the mistreatment of its workers. It doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon though, unfortunately.

Amazon has patented designs for a wristband that can precisely track where warehouse employees are placing their hands and use vibrations to nudge them in a different direction.

The concept, which aims to streamline the fulfilment of orders, adds another layer of surveillance to an already challenging working environment.

[…]

Amazon already has a reputation for turning low-paid staff into “human robots” – working alongside thousands of proper robots – carrying out repetitive packaging tasks as fast as possible in an attempt to hit goals set by handheld computers.

This month, the 24-year-old warehouse worker Aaron Callaway described having just 15 seconds to scan items and place them into the right cart during his night shifts at an Amazon warehouse in the UK. “My main interaction is with the robots,” he said.

The Stupid Border Wall Proposal

Demonizing immigrants is among the oldest of scapegoating tricks used by demagogues. A border wall is a hallmark of a repressive society — see East Germany and China — and people thinking about this issue should remember that. There are also simply numerous superior uses of about $18 billion worth of taxpayer funds.

This comes after President Trump held an extraordinary meeting with Democratic and Republican lawmakers at the White House on Monday, in which President Trump appeared to support a wide-reaching deal on immigration that could grant millions of undocumented people a pathway to citizenship.

During the meeting, Trump repeatedly said he would “take the heat” for a sweeping immigration deal, which would likely be opposed by much of his far-right-wing anti-immigrant base. President Trump also said he wanted a “bill of love” to protect the 800,000 young undocumented people, known as DREAMers, whose protections he attempted to rescind late last year. To the surprise of many, the majority of the meeting was televised, which aides said was meant to show the president’s mental acuity, amid mounting questions about the president’s mental health.

But much of what Trump said during the televised meeting appeared to run counter to his campaign promises and his immigration policies, which have included demanding $18 billion in funding for a militarized border wall, rescinding DACA and canceling immigration protections, known as TPS, for hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Sudanese immigrants who have been living in the United States for years.

better-uses-of-18-billion

For the source of many of the real problems in American society, one must look to places such as Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry, not immigrants.

Chilling Chinese Social Credit Blacklist

I mainly criticize the corrupt activities of the U.S. government and the corporations originating there, but I occasionally devote energy to criticizing other states if it’s significant enough. Chinese repressions such as its heavily authoritarian, state-sanctioned system of discrimination fall into that category.

Apple CEO Tim Cook looks forward to a “common future in cyberspace” with China, he told the Chinese government’s World Internet Conference earlier this month. This was an embarrassing gesture toward a state that aggressively censors the internet and envisions a dystopian future online.

The experience of lawyer Li Xiaolin may give a taste of what that future looks like. During a 2016 work trip inside China, he tried to use his national identity card to purchase a plane ticket. To his surprise, the online system rejected it, saying he had been blacklisted by China’s top court. Mr. Li checked the court’s website: His name was on a list of “untrustworthy” people for having failed to carry out a court order in 2015. He thought he had resolved the issue, but now he was stranded more than 1,200 miles from home.

Mr. Li’s dilemma was due to the Chinese government’s ambitious “social credit system.” Launched by the government in 2012, it vows to “make trustworthy people benefit everywhere and untrustworthy people restricted everywhere” by the time it is fully implemented in 2020.

This is no anodyne credit score. By rating citizens on a range of behaviors from shopping habits to online speech, the government intends to manufacture a problem-free society. Those with low scores will face obstacles in everything from getting government jobs to placing their children in desired schools. It remains unclear exactly who will run the system, whether or how one could dispute scores, or even whether the system is legal.

[…]

Chinese government authorities clearly hope to create a reality in which bureaucratic pettiness could significantly limit people’s rights. As President Xi Jinping’s power grows, and as the system approaches full implementation, more abuses will come.

Video on China’s Disturbing Surveillance State

No rational human being would ideally want to live in a society with this much mass surveillance. It presents all sorts of problems and has a major repressive effect.

Mass surveillance has never been about security too. It’s about population control. More people will realize this as time goes on.

China has been building what it calls “the world’s biggest camera surveillance network”. Across the country, 170 million CCTV cameras are already in place and an estimated 400 million new ones will be installed in the next three years.

Many of the cameras are fitted with artificial intelligence, including facial recognition technology. The BBC’s John Sudworth has been given rare access to one of the new hi-tech police control rooms.

75,000 Turks Arrested for Downloading Encrypted Chat App

The use of repressive force against these people was wrong. Innocent people shouldn’t be arrested for trying to communicate securely.

Tens of thousands of Turkish citizens detained or dismissed from their jobs on the basis of downloading an encrypted messaging app have had their human rights breached, a legal opinion published in London has found.

The study, commissioned by opponents of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, argues that the arrest of 75,000 suspects primarily because they downloaded the ByLock app is arbitrary and illegal.

It reflects growing concern about the legality of the Turkish government’s crackdown in the aftermath of last year’s failed coup.

[…]

The detention of people on this basis is “arbitrary and in breach of article 5” of the European convention on human rights, which guarantees the right to liberty, the report says.

The article says that Telegram is a secure messaging tool, which is incorrect enough to be noted. Telegram stores user communication data on its servers as unencrypted by default. The decent measure of secure communication is only when users actively enable the encryption feature in the Telegram app, and Telegram’s encryption is mediocre. Both of these traits — the insecurity by default and mediocre encryption — are strong points against Telegram being called “secure,” especially when there will be good activists mistakenly depending on it under brutal regimes as a result. The app Signal is among the best alternatives for secure communication instead.