This week, Amazon is facing backlash for selling facial recognition tools to police. The American Civil Liberties Union says the company was powering a government surveillance infrastructure. Amazon says its services can be used for anything from finding lost children to spotting celebrities at the royal wedding to tracking down criminals. Facial recognition is an increasingly powerful tool that’s raising a lot of privacy concerns. And not every company thinks these tools should be sold to every buyer. Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood spoke to Brian Brackeen, CEO of the facial recognition software company Kairos, about why his company’s code of ethics prohibits selling services to governments. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Brian Brackeen: The challenge with the facial recognition in the government is they know both the question and the answer. Let's say I sell a product to a retailer, right? They don't have a database of all our pictures. They don't know who everyone is, so they can't assign an identity to a person who's walking into the store without either [that person's] consent or [that person] providing a picture or what have you. But in the government's case, they have all our driver's license data. They have all our passport data. They have mugshot records, and so they can simply find anyone in any camera stream — even if those camera streams aren't owned by the government. Let's say it's a local bank or a McDonald's or a convenience store, [the government] has subpoena power as well, so they could subpoena the McDonald's for their video records and then run it through a facial recognition system like Amazon. So it's really, we think, an inappropriate use.