ACLU Also Issues Comment on Amazon Statement About “Rekognition” Scan Results

July 26, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO – Reps. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.) today wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding a meeting to discuss Amazon’s face surveillance product Rekognition. The letter comes after the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California released results of a test this morning revealing that Rekognition falsely matched 28 current members of Congress with images in an arrest photo database. Congressional members of color were disproportionately identified incorrectly, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus. 

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Reps. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) also wrote to Amazon with questions about the sale of Rekognition to law enforcement. Markey, Gomez, Lewis, Gutiérrez, and DeSaulnier were among the 28 to be falsely identified. 

“These lawmakers and others are standing up and holding Amazon’s feet to the fire,” said ACLU legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani. “It’s disappointing that Amazon continues to bury its head in the sand in the face of concrete and legitimate concerns being raised about its technology. In doing so, they ignore the real privacy, civil liberties, and safety risks of their technology. Congress should continue to demand Amazon take responsibility for the technology it sells to law enforcement. In addition, Congress should enact a federal moratorium on law enforcement use of this technology until there can be a full debate on what – if any – uses should be permitted.”

Earlier, Amazon responded to the ACLU’s test via a statement arguing that the ACLU should have used higher threshold settings than Amazon’s own default. 

Jacob Snow, technology and civil liberties attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, responded with the following comments:

“Amazon seems to have missed, or refuses to acknowledge, the broader point: Face surveillance technology in the hands of government is primed for abuse and raises grave civil rights concerns. It could allow – and in some cases has already enabled – police to track protesters, ICE to continuously monitor immigrants, and cities to surveil their own residents. Changing the matching threshold doesn’t change the danger. In fact, it could exacerbate it.

“In addition to remaining silent on these very real concerns that members of Congress, community groups, and Amazon’s own employees, shareholders, and consumers have raised repeatedly, Amazon is acknowledging that Rekognition – a product that it aggressively markets to law enforcement – can and will misidentify people by default. That’s downright dangerous, and there’s more:

  • We know from our test that Amazon makes no effort to ask users what they are using Rekognition for. Instead, Rekognition sets one default: the same 80 percent we used in running our test.   
  • We also know that Amazon’s website, right now, shows the use of an 80 percent confidence for recognizing human faces. It shows that Amazon is recommending an 80 percent confidence score in ‘Face-Based User Verification.’ If an 80 percent threshold is not ‘appropriate for identifying individuals with a reasonable level of certainty,’ why is Amazon highlighting that confidence level for recognizing human faces?


“Amazon has effectively admitted that its product is dangerous out of the box. This just reinforces that Amazon needs to take greater responsibility for Rekognition. And Congress needs to take action to put on the brakes and enact a moratorium on law enforcement use of face surveillance.”

Below is an image from Amazon’s website with Amazon showing the use of an 80 percent confidence score for “Face-Based User Verification.”

Amazon Verification Threshold
The ACLU used Amazon’s default settings to conduct the test, which was then verified by an independent expert. The test also resembles how a sheriff’s department in Oregon is deploying Rekognition to compare people’s faces against a mugshot database.

The letter from Reps. Gomez and Lewis to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos can be found here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4618972-Amazon-Rekognition-Lette....

Sen. Markey and Reps. Gutiérrez and DeSaulnier’s letter can be found here: https://www.markey.senate.gov/news/press-releases/after-false-matches-by...

The ACLU report can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/blog/privacy-technology/surveillance-technologies/a...
 

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