Two months ago the Congressional Black Caucus issued a letter to Jeffrey Bezos, Chairman, President, and CEO of Amazon, expressing their concerns over Amazon’s Rekognition facial recognition software. Today, Rep. Lewis issued a further statement expressing his concerns after testing of the software was performed by the ACLU. The ACLU ran all 535 members of Congress through the software and 28 were falsely identified as people arrested for a crime. The ACLU has called on Congress to “enact a moratorium on law enforcement’s use of facial recognition.”
The New York Times has shared Amazon’s response to the ACLU’s claims of inaccuracies. Amazon claims that their software has been used for many beneficial purposes, such as “preventing human trafficking and reuniting missing children with their families.” Further, Amazon states that the software is not generally used to “make fully autonomous decisions about people’s identities,” but instead is used “to help narrow the field and allow humans to expeditiously review and consider options using their judgment.” Finally, they state that the ACLU had tested at an 80% confidence threshold level, meaning that “the group counted any face matches the system proposed that had a similarity score of 80 percent or more.” They state that they recommend law enforcement to use a level of 95%.
“The results of the ACLU’s test of Amazon’s “Rekognition” software are deeply troubling. As a society, we need technology to help resolve human problems, not to add to the mountain of injustices presently facing of people of color in this country.
Black and brown people are already unjustly targeted through a discriminatory sentencing system that has led to mass incarceration and devastated millions of families. The poor are already ensnared by the complications of a judiciary that leads the innocent to plead guilty because they can find no other way out.
The current leadership at the Department of Justice is already openly hostile to the rights and civil liberties of minority communities. Last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation designated Black activists as extremists and terrorists, a move reminiscent of the damage of COINTELPRO. The current Department of Homeland Security is already targeting and deporting brown immigrants in droves, some of whom are actually American citizens. Communities of color are already protesting the unjust consequences of racial profiling as too many are killed or end up dead while in the custody of police.
I myself have suffered misidentification and erroneous targeting while traveling through airports and on airplanes as I commute between DC and Georgia. What would happen, under these already threatening conditions, if people from these same communities were misidentified by facial recognition software? How would they prove to police that a computerized result is false?
It is not enough for Amazon to advise users of a 20 percent failure rate in their software. Law enforcement should not use this technology until the onerous civil rights and civil liberties issues are confronted and accuracy is guaranteed. If industry wants to engage in the public sphere, it needs to make the public good, not profit, a top priority. American families should not be collateral damage on the road to technological innovation.”