Amazon’s Face Recognition Falsely Matched 28 Members of Congress With Mugshots

Amazon’s face surveillance technology is the target of growing opposition nationwide, and today, there are 28 more causes for concern. In a test the ACLU recently conducted of the facial recognition tool, called “Rekognition,” the software incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress, identifying them as other people who have been arrested for a crime. 

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.

Amazon Rekognition False Matches of 28 member of Congress
Our test used Amazon Rekognition to compare images of members of Congress with a database of mugshots. The results included 28 incorrect matches. 

The false matches were disproportionately of people of color, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus, among them civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). These results demonstrate why Congress should join the ACLU in calling for a moratorium on law enforcement use of face surveillance.

To conduct our test, we used the exact same facial recognition system that Amazon offers to the public, which anyone could use to scan for matches between images of faces. And running the entire test cost us $12.33 — less than a large pizza.

Tell Amazon to get out of the surveillance business

Using Rekognition, we built a face database and search tool using 25,000 publicly available arrest photos. Then we searched that database against public photos of every current member of the House and Senate. We used the default match settings that Amazon sets for Rekognition.

The Rekognition Scan, Comparing input images to mugshot databases
Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) was falsely identified by Amazon Rekognition as someone who had been arrested for a crime. 

In a recent letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the Congressional Black Caucus expressed concern about the “profound negative unintended consequences” face surveillance could have for Black people, undocumented immigrants, and protesters. Academic research has also already shown that face recognition is less accurate for darker-skinned faces and women. Our results validate this concern: Nearly 40 percent of Rekognition’s false matches in our test were of people of color, even though they make up only 20 percent of Congress.

Racial Bias in Amazon Face Recognition
People of color were disproportionately falsely matched in our test.

If law enforcement is using Amazon Rekognition, it’s not hard to imagine a police officer getting a “match” indicating that a person has a previous concealed-weapon arrest, biasing the officer before an encounter even begins. Or an individual getting a knock on the door from law enforcement, and being questioned or having their home searched, based on a false identification.

An identification — whether accurate or not — could cost people their freedom or even their lives. People of color are already disproportionately harmed by police practices, and it’s easy to see how Rekognition could exacerbate that. A recent incident in San Francisco provides a disturbing illustration of that risk. Police stopped a car, handcuffed an elderly Black woman and forced her to kneel at gunpoint — all because an automatic license plate reader improperly identified her car as a stolen vehicle.

Matching people against arrest photos is not a hypothetical exercise. Amazon is aggressively marketing its face surveillance technology to police, boasting that its service can identify up to 100 faces in a single image, track people in real time through surveillance cameras, and scan footage from body cameras. A sheriff’s department in Oregon has already started using Amazon Rekognition to compare people’s faces against a mugshot database, without any public debate.

Face surveillance also threatens to chill First Amendment-protected activity like engaging in protest or practicing religion, and it can be used to subject immigrants to further abuse from the government.

These dangers are why 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 have already spoken up to demand that Amazon stop providing face surveillance to the government.

Congress must take these threats seriously, hit the brakes, and enact a moratorium on law enforcement use of face recognition. This technology shouldn’t be used until the harms are fully considered and all necessary steps are taken to prevent them from harming vulnerable communities.

List of Members of Congress Falsely Matched With Arrest Photos

Senate

  • John Isakson (R-Georgia)
  • Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts)
  • Pat Roberts (R-Kansas)

House

  • Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia)
  • George Butterfield (D-North Carolina)
  • Lacy Clay (D-Missouri)
  • Mark DeSaulnier (D-California)
  • Adriano Espaillat (D-New York)
  • Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona)
  • Thomas Garrett (R-Virginia)
  • Greg Gianforte (R-Montana)
  • Jimmy Gomez (D-California)
  • Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona)
  • Luis Gutiérrez (D-Illinois)
  • Steve Knight (R-California)
  • Leonard Lance (R-New Jersey)
  • John Lewis (D-Georgia)
  • Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey)
  • David Loebsack (D-Iowa)
  • David McKinley (R-West Virginia)
  • John Moolenaar (R-Michigan)
  • Tom Reed (R-New York)
  • Bobby Rush (D-Illinois)
  • Norma Torres (D-California)
  • Marc Veasey (D-Texas)
  • Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio)
  • Steve Womack (R-Arkansas)
  • Lee Zeldin (R-New York)
View comments (115)
Read the Terms of Use

Dr. Timothy Leary

For better or worse, facial recognition devices are here to stay. It's here, It's queer. Get used to it.

Anonymous

I feel that this comment and most of the other comments miss the fundamental point of this article, which is that law enforcement should not be using this technology without oversight. The nature of the oversight must be determined through public debate and our political process. Yes, the technology is here to stay. However, the technology is too powerful and still too nascent/flawed--and the risks to liberty are too high--to allow this technology to be marketed as a common of the shelf product.

Jesus M Jacinto

It is a question that in a world where everybody is living in a traditional, blind, absurd way, even to talk about truth is dangerous.

It is dangerous because all the vested interests want humanity to remain retarded so that the human mind does not evolve to its ultimate potential, because once there are individuals of the caliber of Socrates, Lao Tzu, Gautam Buddha, then there is no possibility of any exploitation, physical or psychological; no possibility of any oppression, no possibility of enslaving the human soul.

And all the politicians need slaves, and the priests need slaves. They don’t want humanity to blossom and to release its fragrance to the winds, to the sun, to the moon. They want you just to produce more money for them, more power for them, more slaves for them, more population for them.

Anonymous

To be stunningly blunt, mr. Lewis was arrested and mugshots were taken of him. He may even have violated some laws. As all of us (should) know, that makes him a hero. Those laws were unjust and so were the arrests. Which just shows that being in a database doesn't necessarily mean anything.

What is likely much worse is that the photos used, weren't matched to the right people in the first place. So whoever mr. Lewis's picture was matched to wasn't him. Indeed, it's quite likely none of them were correctly identified. Worse still, if we did a test of identifying members of congress correctly in newspaper pictures, we might find that quite often the algorithm wouldn't recognize them or wrongly recognize them. Or vice versa, if we took a picture of a member of the public and would compare it to a database of all the members of state governemnts, it would always find a a match somewhere.

As a result with this technology, those that have had their mugshot taken will be punished time and again for decades to come. The Algorithm wants to match something and so it will always find a match. The result is that for decades to come the police will be hunting the wrong people all the time for things they didn't do. So you will have a life sentence, without ever having been sentenced.

Anonymous

To be stunningly blunt, mr. Lewis was arrested and mugshots were taken of him. He may even have violated some laws. As all of us (should) know, that makes him a hero. Those laws were unjust and so were the arrests. Which just shows that being in a database doesn't necessarily mean anything.

What is likely much worse is that the photos used, weren't matched to the right people in the first place. So whoever mr. Lewis's picture was matched to wasn't him. Indeed, it's quite likely none of them were correctly identified. Worse still, if we did a test of identifying members of congress correctly in newspaper pictures, we might find that quite often the algorithm wouldn't recognize them or wrongly recognize them. Or vice versa, if we took a picture of a member of the public and would compare it to a database of all the members of state governemnts, it would always find a a match somewhere.

As a result with this technology, those that have had their mugshot taken will be punished time and again for decades to come. The Algorithm wants to match something and so it will always find a match. The result is that for decades to come the police will be hunting the wrong people all the time for things they didn't do. So you will have a life sentence, without ever having been sentenced.

Anonymous

The real travesty is that it didn't match all of congress with mug shots...

Anonymous

Here, here... my very first thought when I heard this news

cornbear

Amazon face recognition identifies 28 members of Congress as criminals. Only 28?

Master Jesus M ...

Hahah this is best one so far

Don’t be worried, it is only a question of time. And if you can see, then there is no difference. It is the same reality, somewhere becoming a saint and somewhere becoming a sinner; it is the same It.

Like a lamp that shines in the darkness of spiritual unknowing,
it removes obscurations of a mind
as far as the fragmentations of intellect obtain.
Who can imagine the self-being of desirelessness?

Like a lamp the third awareness is born in me. It is like a lamp that shines in the darkness of spiritual unknowing. Now I can see for the first time that matter and mind are one, that out and in are one, that body and soul are one, that this world and the other world are one, that this contains that too. Since this light happened to me, now there is no problem. Whatsoever is, is good.

Like a lamp that shines in the darkness of spiritual unknowing, it removes obscurations of a mind.

All my obscurities, all my hindrances - things that were obstructing my vision - are removed. I can see reality directly. Repressions are no longer there, my energies are in a flow. I am not against my body, I am not inimical to my body, I am one with my body. The division is dropped. My senses are all open and functioning at the optimum. My mind is silent, there is no obsessive thinking. When I need to I think, when I don’t need to I don’t think. I am the master of my house. A light was born in me, and with that light, all obscurities have disappeared. Now nothing obstructs me, my vision is total. The wall that was around me has disappeared.

That wall consists of three things: repressions in the body, dust in the senses, and thoughts in the mind. These are the three bricks that the China Wall around you is made of. Remove these bricks and the wall disappears. And when the wall is gone, you come to know the One.

Ben

Hi, can you post the code and/or confusion matrix for this analysis? With these kinds of analyses, I think seeing the full array of results (FP, FN, TN, TP) would be beneficial for readers.

Pages

Stay Informed