The CIA isn’t the only federal agency making use of Amazon’s vast offerings – as the FBI has been testing the Seattle-based megacorp’s facial recognition software – Amazon Rekognition, as a potential method of scanning vast amounts of video surveillance footage which the agency routinely gathers during investigations.
The pilot program was launched in early 2018 according to FBI officials, after several high-profile counterterrorism investigations which strained the FBI’s current technological capabilities, reports Nextgov.com.
One example of the FBI’s struggle to keep up with data was during the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting in which 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada killed Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured 422. As part of the investigation, the FBI gathered a petabyte worth of data (one million gigabytes) – much of it comprising video from cellphones and surveillance cameras.
“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,” said FBI Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Christine Halvorsen, speaking from a Las Vegas Amazon Web Services conference in November. She described how the FBI has been using Amazon’s cloud platform to carry out counterterrorism probes – noting that Amazon Rekognition could have processed the same amount of data from the Las Vegas shooting “in 24 hours,” roughly three weeks faster than it took human FBI agents to find Paddock’s face amid a mountain of video evidence.
“Think about that,” Halvorsen said, noting that technology like Amazon Rekognition frees up FBI agents and analysts to apply their skills to other aspects of the investigation or other cases.
“The cases don’t stop, the threats keep going,” Halvorsen added. “Being able to not pull people off that and have computers do it is very important.” –Nextgov.com
Amazon provides a significant number of services to the US government – primarily through its cloud business, AWS, which counts the Defense Department and the CIA among its customers.
While it’s unclear how the facial recognition software may be used in the public sector, the Daily Beast reported in October that Amazon had pitched the software to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement last summer, which has resulted in both lawmakers and Amazon employees asking questions, according to Nextgov.
The company does not list any federal clients on its customer page, and currently only identifies as a customer one local law enforcement agency, the Washington County Sheriff Office.
Just one question; is Rekognition racist?