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FBI Reportedly Harvesting Publicly Available “Weapon” Info

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is initiating Project Tyr, an effort in its infancy to employ Amazon’s artificial intelligence-driven Rekognition cloud service to identify firearms—among other things—and the people associated with them. According to the bureau’s description (on the last page) the software “… offers pre trained and customizable computer vision (CV) capabilities to extract information and insights from lawfully acquired images and videos. Currently in initiation phase to customize to review and identify items containing nudity, weapons, explosives, and other identifying information.”

The news came as a shock to a digital community primarily concerned about privacy and inaccurate facial recognition. Amazon placed a moratorium on law enforcement’s use of Rekognition’s facial recognition software in June 2020, extended the moratorium in 2021 and released a statement explaining the latest FBI effort will only use the program’s other assets.

“Rekognition is an image and video analysis service that has many non-facial analysis and comparison features,” Amazon spokesperson Duncan Neasham explained to FedScoop, the outlet that broke the news on January 25. “Nothing in the Department of Justice’s disclosure indicates the FBI is violating the moratorium in any way.”

The initiative may be fueled, in part, by the number of convicted felons willing to post photos of themselves on social media while holding a gun and/or clearly stating ownership. That violation of the law has helped re-incarcerate criminals in FloridaIndianaIowaMassachusettsNebraska and dozens, if not hundreds, of others in the last year alone.

Identifying those instances falls well within the FBI’s website stated goal to, “… protect the American people and uphold the U.S. Constitution.” Today, its team of roughly 35,000 relies heavily on the latest forensic and investigative technology and routinely explores innovative new techniques, including this one. Precisely how it will harness Rekognition or the baseline used in the search for firearms—and whether that information is cataloged—has yet to be announced.

The Federal Government is not alone in its reliance on sometimes controversial software, however. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the New York City Police Department, for example, has been using facial recognition since 2011, can put 19 drones in the air, has video monitoring for loitering and more. For a look at systems employed by your city, county and state the organization has a free and easy-to-use Atlas of Surveillance online.

Article by GUY J. SAGI

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