Lawmakers raise 'serious concerns' about Amazon facial recognition software
- Eight Democratic lawmakers say they have "serious concerns" about Amazon’s facial recognition software, especially its potential impact on communities of color. In a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the lawmakers ask for the company to explain how the Rekognition software works, how it will protect privacy rights and how it will ensure that it is not abused by law enforcement agencies.
- The lawmakers say they have a "heightened concern given recent reports that Amazon is actively marketing its biometric technology to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as other reports of pilot programs." The City of Orlando, FL recently entered a second pilot with the software.
- The letter was signed by Democratic Sen. Ed Markey, MA, and Democratic Reps. Jimmy Gomez, CA; Luis Gutierrez, IL; Jan Schakowsky, IL; Pramila Jayapal, WA; Ro Khanna, CA; Judy Chu, CA and John Lewis, GA.
Amazon has touted Rekognition as a potential security game-changer — by picking faces out of a crowd, law enforcement officials could maintain crowd control or track suspects through crowded cities. The Orlando pilot has been one of the more publicized uses, but the software has also reportedly been used in Oregon and has been marketed widely.
However, it’s also raised widespread civil rights concerns, with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) charging that the technology is “primed for abuse in the hands of governments.” Especially concerning is the software’s treatment of minorities; the ACLU in August uploaded 10,000 mugshots into software and cross-referenced photos of every member of Congress. Rekognition reported 28 false matches, disproportionately African-American.
In their letter, the lawmakers are seeking assurances that Bezos and Amazon is working to address concerns that “this type of product has significant accuracy issues, places disproportionate burdens on communities of color, and could stifle Americans’ willingness to exercise their First Amendment rights in public.” Previous requests, they say, have not yielded sufficient answers. Congressional scrutiny could create problems for Amazon as it markets Rekognition, especially with Democrats taking the House and in a position to hold hearings on the software.
Orlando has said it is slow-walking its implementation, and is only using it to track police officers who have volunteered in the pilot. If it decides to use Rekognition in the future, the city would “develop a policy and governance surrounding the technology at that time."
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