In a letter shared exclusively with BuzzFeed News, Reps. Jimmy Gomez and John Lewis have asked to meet with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to discuss Amazon’s controversial face recognition tool.
Lawmakers representing communities of color are requesting a meeting with Amazon after a report by the American Civil Liberties Union revealed today that the company’s controversial facial recognition tool Rekognition falsely matched 28 members of US Congress with mugshots in its database.
Reps. Jimmy Gomez and John Lewis (a prominent civil rights leader) shared a letter exclusively with BuzzFeed News asking to meet with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Separately, Sen. Edward Markey and Reps. Luis Gutiérrez and Mark DeSaulnier also sent a letter expressing their concern and asking for more information about Amazon’s facial recognition services.
“We want to express our deep concerns about your facial recognition technology … and the potential impact of this technology on the civil liberties, particularly in communities of color,” Reps. Gomez and Lewis said in their letter. “We request an immediate meeting with you to discuss how to address the defects of this technology in order to prevent inaccurate outcomes.”
The two co-leads of the letter are from the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; both were falsely matched to mugshots in the ACLU’s test of Amazon Rekognition. According to the ACLU’s test of Amazon Rekognition technology, nearly 40% of false matches were people of color, even though they make up only 20% of Congress. The office of Rep. Gomez told BuzzFeed News that it is continuing to circulate the letter today for more signatures from members of Congress.
Sen. Edward Markey and Reps. Luis Gutiérrez and Mark DeSaulnier, meanwhile, asked Amazon to answer their questions about Amazon Rekognition and its sale to law enforcement by Aug. 20. “Serious concerns have been raised about the dangers facial recognition can pose to privacy and civil rights, especially when it is a tool of government surveillance, as well as accuracy of the technology and its disproportionate impact on communities of color,” their letter stated.
Among the details Markey, Gutiérrez, and DeSaulnier sought: a bias assessment that Amazon has conducted on Rekognition; a list of law enforcement that Amazon has contacted or communicated with over the use of Rekognition; and whether those law enforcement agencies have ever been investigated.
Amazon, for its part, has said Rekognition has been used in the past for many useful purposes, including finding missing children, enhancing security, and preventing package theft. “We remain excited about how image and video analysis can be a driver for good in the world, including in the public sector and law enforcement,” an Amazon Web Services spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in an earlier statement.
But Jeff Bezos has yet to make a public statement to mounting criticisms of Amazon’s Rekognition technology by Amazon employees, shareholders, and civil rights groups. In May, the ACLU reported that Amazon had been pitching Rekognition to law enforcement agencies to surveil citizens, and that Oregon’s Washington County and Orlando had been using it since 2017. The report spurred a petition to the Amazon CEO, asking him to end the contracts with police. Now, Bezos also needs to decide whether he will indeed meet with members of Congress asking for a meeting to express concerns over the facial recognition technology.
Beyond asking for time with Amazon’s CEO, Gomez and Lewis ask Bezos in their letter to ensure that developers of tech like Amazon Rekognition include testing and regular consultation with “diverse stakeholders” — especially civil rights experts and advocates.
“Data software excels at finding patterns and aggregating data, but those programs have yet to prove they can accurately analyze the context around the information it
collects,” the letter stated. “This can and has led to irretrievable harm to innocent persons’ livelihoods; a cost that is too high to ignore.”
Originally published at Buzzfeed