Amazon's online facial recognition system incorrectly matched pictures of US Congress members to mugshots of suspected criminals in a study by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU, a nonprofit headquartered in New York, has called for Congress to ban cops and Feds from using any sort of computer-powered facial recognition technology due to the fact that, well, it sucks. Amazon's AI-powered Rekognition service was previously criticized by the ACLU when it revealed the web giant was aggressively marketing its face-matching tech to police in Washington County, Oregon, and Orlando, Florida. Rekognition is touted by the Bezos Bunch as, among other applications, a way to identify people in real time from surveillance camera footage or from officers' body cameras. The results from the ACLU's latest probing showed that Rekognition mistook images of 28 members of Congress for mugshots of cuffed people suspected of crimes.
Why the American Civil Liberties Union is calling out Amazon's facial recognition tool, and what the ACLU found when it compared photos of members of Congress to public arrest photos. A group of Amazon shareholders is pushing the tech giant to stop selling its controversial facial recognition technology to U.S. government agencies, just days after a coalition of 85 human rights, faith, and racial justice groups demanded in an open letter that Jeff Bezos' company stop marketing surveillance technology to the feds. Over the last year, the "Rekognition" technology, which has been reportedly marketed to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has come under fire from immigrants' rights groups and privacy advocates who argue that it can be misused and ultimately lead to racially biased outcomes. A test of the technology by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) showed that 28 members of Congress, mostly people of color, were incorrectly identified as police suspects. According to media reports and the ACLU, Amazon has already sold or marketed "Rekognition" to law enforcement agencies in three states.
Face recognition is a stark example of a technology that is being deployed faster than society and the law can adopt new norms and rules. It lets governments and private enterprise track citizens anywhere there is a camera, even if they're not carrying any devices. In general, people who are in public don't have any legal expectation of privacy and can be photographed or recorded. Because of this, the technology has the potential to be more intrusive than phone tracking, the legality of which the U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide. There are only two states, Texas and Illinois, that limit private companies' ability to track people via their faces.
When is it appropriate for police to conduct a face recognition search? To figure out who's who in a crowd of protesters? To monitor foot traffic in a high-crime neighborhood? To confirm the identity of a suspect -- or a witness -- caught on tape? According to a new report by Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy & Technology, these are questions very few police departments asked before widely deploying face recognition systems.
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society. The ACLU released a report on Thursday revealing that Rekognition, Amazon's facial recognition tool, had falsely matched 28 members of Congress to mug shots. Members of the ACLU purchased the version of Rekognition that Amazon offers to the general public and ran public photos of every member of the House and Senate against a database of 25,000 arrest photos. The entire experiment costed $12.33, which, as ACLU attorney Jake Snow writes in a blogpost, is "less than a large pizza." Almost 40 percent of the representatives that Rekognition falsely matched were people of color, even though they make up only 20 percent of Congress.