ACLU seeks Congress attention against Amazon Rekognition


The ACLU or The American Civil Liberties Union, a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States, has been attempting to raise awareness of Amazon’s Rekognition software for some time.

The ACLU says that it “raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns.”

Although Amazon did not seem to be much worried regarding the raised concerns and sais, “As a technology, Amazon Rekognition has many useful applications in the real world.”

Now in an attempt to get attention ACLU said  it used Rekognition to scan images of every current member of Congress. It claimed the software falsely matched 28 members of Congress with arrest mugshots.

“The members of Congress who were falsely matched with the mugshot database we used in the test include Republicans and Democrats, men and women, and legislators of all ages, from all across the country,” the organization writes in a statement.

Those tagged, however, “were disproportionately of people of color, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus, among them civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis,” it adds.

But naturally, Amazon had outright dismissed these findings claiming that such technologies are used to narrow down results, rather than make arrests.

“We remain excited about how image and video analysis can be a driver for good in the world,” it said in a statement.

That the service appears to have an outsized target on people of color, however, does add fuel to the ACLU’s existing privacy complaints. Earlier this month, Microsoft president Bradford L. Smith called for additional regulation for these technologies as they continue to become more of a mainstay for law enforcement.

“Facial recognition technology raises issues that go to the heart of fundamental human rights protections like privacy and freedom of expression,” Smith wrote.

“These issues heighten responsibility for tech companies that create these products. In our view, they also call for thoughtful government regulation and for the development of norms around acceptable uses.”

However there may be some bad news for Amazon as it appears that ACLU’s attention seeking stunt actually worked. A trio of Democratic Congress members have written a letter to Jeff Bezos, demanding some answers.

It reads, in part, “While facial recognition services might provide a valuable law enforcement tool, the efficacy and impact of the technology are not yet fully understood. In particular, serious concerns have been raised about the dangers facial recognition can pose to privacy and civil rights, especially when it is used as a tool of government surveillance, as well as the accuracy of the technology and its disproportionate impact on communities of color.”


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