The FBI is testing Rekognition, an Amazon’s facial recognition software, to examine the pile of surveillance footage videos that the organization regularly gathers in investigations.
According to FBI agents, the experiment started in early 2018 after a series of high-profile counterterrorism investigations that checked the bounds of technological abilities of FBI. For instance, in the Las Vegas 2017 mass shooting carried out by Stephen Paddock, the law implementation organization gathered a petabyte worth of information, which mostly included videos from surveillance cameras and cell phones.
“We had agents and analysts, eight per shift, working 24/7 for three weeks going through the video footage of everywhere Stephen Paddock was the month leading up to him coming and doing the shooting,” Christine Halvorsen, Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism at FBI, claimed.
Halvorsen made this statement at the Amazon Web Services re:Invent conference in Las Vegas in November, when she was telling the means by which FBI is utilizing cloud platforms of Amazon to do counterterrorism investigations. According to her, Amazon Rekognition would have studied the same tons of data of Las Vegas shooting in just “24 hours”, which was three weeks quicker than the human FBI agents took to discover all the occurrences of Paddock’s face from the videos.
“Think about that,” Halvorsen claimed, mentioning that tech such as Amazon Rekognition gives FBI officials and experts free time to use their talent in other cases or on the other parts of the same investigation.
“The cases don’t stop, the threats keep going,” Halvorsen further said. “Being able to not pull people off that and have computers do it is very important.”
Although Amazon is now an important seller of tech to the government – supplying mostly through Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud business of Amazon, which has users from the CIA and Defense Department – it is not really clear how public sector is utilizing its facial recognition software. According to Daily Beast, in the last summer, the firm pitched the software to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, a step that led to questions from Amazon employees and lawmakers.
Further, the firm doesn’t have any federal clients mentioned in the list on its customer page, and presently only recognizes the Washington County Sheriff Office, a local law enforcement agency, as a customer. A press report says that the Orlando city has recently started a second test of Amazon’s
The FBI didn’t really disclose any more information related to its usage of Amazon Rekognition.