Lawmakers Want Better Answers from Amazon About Facial Matching Program

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As law enforcement agencies experiment with the tech, lawmakers push for details about accuracy and privacy.

Democratic lawmakers are again pressing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to answer questions about the facial recognition technology the company is shopping to law enforcement agencies, including U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement.

“[A]t this time, we have serious 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,” lawmakers wrote in a letter released Nov. 29, the last day of Amazon’s re:Invent conference. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Reps. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., Luis Gutiérrez, D.-Ill., John Lewis, D-Ga., Judy Chu, D-Calif., Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., signed the letter.

It’s not the first time Amazon’s two-year-old Rekognition program, which has pilots at ICE and the FBI, popped up on lawmakers’ radar.

In June, around the time the City of Orlando ended its program after civil liberties groups raised privacy questions, the American Civil Liberties Union tested the program using the images of members of Congress. ACLU said it made 28 false matches to criminal mugshots, mainly with members of color.

Markey and Gutiérrez wrote Bezos in July, but Markey knocked back Amazon’s response as “insufficient.” In addition to accuracy questions, lawmakers want to know specifics about Rekognition, such as whether it automatically deletes unused data, whether the company audits how law enforcement uses its software and whether any government customers are using it for “continual, real-time facial recognition of the public.”

Lawmakers requested a response by Dec. 13.

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