ACLU Calls for Moratorium on Government Use of Face Surveillance Technology

July 26, 2018

Today the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California released the results of a test revealing that Amazon’s facial surveillance product Rekognition falsely matched 28 current members of Congress with images in an arrest photo database. 

In the ACLU’s test, legislators from both parties, from states across the country, were falsely matched. Congressional members of color were disproportionately identified incorrectly, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Several months ago, the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to Jeff Bezos that expressed concern about the “profound negative unintended consequences” face surveillance technology could have for African Americans, undocumented immigrants, and protestors.

The ACLU used Rekognition’s default settings to compare every member of Congress with 25,000 public arrest photos, and verified the results with an independent expert. The test mirrors how a sheriff’s department in Oregon is deploying Rekognition to compare people’s faces against a mugshot database.

“Our test reinforces that face surveillance is not safe for government use,” said Jacob Snow, Technology and Civil Liberties Attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “Face surveillance will be used to power discriminatory surveillance and policing that targets communities of color, immigrants, and activists. Once unleashed, that damage can’t be undone.”

These results follow a nationwide movement in protest of the government use of face surveillance, prompted by the ACLU’s release of a report showing how Amazon is marketing facial surveillance to law enforcement. 

Since the release of the documents, the ACLU has delivered over 150,000 petition signatures to Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle demanding that Amazon stop selling facial surveillance technology to governments. A coalition of nearly 70 civil rights organizations, hundreds of academics, as well as Amazon shareholders and employees, have all expressed grave concerns about the profound civil liberties and civil rights threats posed by facial surveillance.

“Congress should press for a federal moratorium on the use of face surveillance until its harms, particularly to vulnerable communities, are fully considered,” said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU legislative counsel. “The public deserves a full debate about how and if face surveillance should be used. 
 

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