Amazon Answerable Over its Facial Recognition Tech

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Amazon Rekognition on Football Players playing in the field
via Amazon

Lawmakers are seeking to hold Amazon accountable for the facial recognition technology it uses in its stores. Generally, people are worried about whether Amazon is marketing the software to law enforcement. Lawmakers are also accusing Amazon of enabling potential privacy breaches. Moreover, a lack of adequate precautions is why lawmakers are concerned about the risks.

Concerns hold ground in real life as certain local police departments have used the facial recognition tech by Amazon. As a result, eight Democratic lawmakers are demanding answers from Amazon about the technology in question. In a letter, the lawmakers openly stated that Amazon had ‘failed to provide sufficient answers’ to their questions.

Letter to Amazon

They had asked Amazon to be transparent about the program several times. But the tech giant had failed to comply. Amazon calls their facial recognition program ‘Rekognition.’ The lawmakers demand assurance from Amazon that the program is secure, well protected, accurate and free of biases. In the same letter, they wrote:

“We have serious concerns that this type of product has significant accuracy issues, places disproportionate burdens on communities of color, and could stifle Americans’ willingness to exercise their First Amendment rights in public.”

The lawmakers who signed the letter are Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.; Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif.; Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.; Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Mich.; Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif.; Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.; and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.

Law Enforcement Using ‘Rekognition’

The lawmaking representatives felt that recent revelations about law enforcement agencies gaining access to the technology had sparked the inquiry. Hence, they had reason to believe that Amazon had been marketing the technology as a product to law enforcement agencies. These agencies also included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The complainants wrote:

“According to reports, law enforcement officials have begun using cameras to collect raw video footage of bystanders and transfer that data to Amazon servers for facial recognition analysis. Notably, these pilot programs lack internal and external policy guidelines, and were reportedly initiated without any hands-on-training from Amazon for participating law enforcement officers.”

People who have officially voiced concern over ‘Rekognition’ include Amazon shareholders, activist groups and company employees. They have all spoken about potential privacy threats. Members of Congress wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos earlier as well. They wrote this letter in July but did not get a satisfactory response. The lawmakers have only given the tech giant until December 13 to send back a satisfactory reply.

Stay tuned for more updates!

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