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Lawmakers push Amazon for answers on facial recognition software

The lawmakers want more information on how Amazon’s Rekognition software works and how it is tested and audited.

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A group of US lawmakers has addressed a letter to Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, raising “serious concerns” about his company’s facial recognition technology, Rekognition. They say Amazon has failed to provide “sufficient answers” to previous questions.

 

In the letter, the eight lawmakers say they are especially concerned that facial recognition technology may have accuracy issues which could lead to racial bias and threaten constitutional rights.

 

The letter notes: “These matters are particularly troubling given newly available information on pilot programmes that employ Rekognition technology, and recent revelations that your company is actively marketing this product to law enforcement entities, including US Customs and Immigration Enforcement.”

 

Testing

 

The City of Orlando’s Police Department, for example, recently entered the second phase of a pilot with Amazon’s facial recognition technology. The proof of concept is expected to conclude in July.

 

The City of Orlando has stressed that no images of the public will be used for any testing, stating that only images of Orlando police officers who have volunteered to participate in the test pilot will be used.

 

The City of Orlando’s Police Department recently entered the second phase of a pilot with Amazon’s facial recognition technology.

 

John Mina, Orlando Police Chief, said: “We have made good strides in testing this technology and believe it is important to continue this evaluation period to determine if it’s a concept that could add immeasurable value in enhancing the city’s public safety mission in a manner that balances reasonable privacy concerns."

 

If Orlando’s Police Department decides to implement the technology after the trial, it says it would develop policy and governance around it.

 

Amazon’s Rekognition website also lists the Washington County Sheriff Office as a customer.

 

ACLU research

 

The letter to Amazon comes after research from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that the software incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress, wrongly identifying them as people who have been arrested for a crime. The study found a disproportionately higher mismatch rate among people of colour.

 

The lawmakers ask Amazon to clarify how its tool has been tested for accuracy and bias and whether the results have been independently verified.

 

The lawmakers ask Amazon to clarify how its tool has been tested for accuracy and bias, and whether the results have been independently verified. The letter also asks what privacy protections have been built into Rekognition, and whether Amazon is auditing usage to prevent abuse and secret surveillance.

 

The group also requests information on whether Rekognition is integrated with any police body-camera technology or existing public-facing camera networks.

 

A response to the letter has been requested by December 13.

 

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