The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California recently reported that Amazon’s newest facial recognition technology, Rekognition, has made a few mistakes in facial identification, matching pictures of 28 members of Congress with mugshots of people who have been arrested for a crime. The members of Congress involved in these false matches include Republicans and Democrats, men and women, and legislators of all ages, from all across the country.
The ACLU is claiming that this incident is just one in a myriad of reasons to force a moratorium on facial recognition technology. The mismatched faces were disproportionately Congresspeople of color, most notably long-time civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
Using Rekognition, the ACLU built a face database and search tool using 25,000 publicly available arrest photos. After searching that database against public photos of every current member of the House and Senate, they used the default match settings that Amazon sets for Rekognition.
The biggest concern the ACLU has regarding this technology is its inevitable implementation into the world of law enforcement. Amazon has been marketing this technology to law enforcement agencies, leaning on the software’s ability to identify up to 100 faces in a single image, track people in real time through surveillance cameras, and scan footage from body cameras. But it’s not difficult to imagine the adverse effects of misidentifying citizens when criminal activity is involved.
Recently, an elderly Black woman was gunned down by a police officer in San Francisco for a car that was allegedly “stolen.” Turns out their identification technology mismatched her license plate with that of a stolen vehicle. Now imagine if a similar case of mistaken identity happened with your face.
Facial recognition brings about concerns regarding an orwellian surveillance state, especially when that kind of surveillance is implemented into law enforcement’s standard protocol. This kind of implementation could potentially be used against immigrants, protesters, and other citizens exercising First Amendment rights.
Amazon employees, shareholders, a coalition of nearly 70 civil rights groups, over 400 members of the academic community, and more than 150,000 members of the public are speaking up against the government’s potential partnership with AmazonRekognition.