Lawmakers ask Amazon to answer questions about privacy, civil rights implications of sale of facial recognition technology to the police


Washington (July 26, 2018) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Representatives Luis Gutiérrez (IL-04) and Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) today questioned Amazon about the sale of its facial recognition technology, “Rekognition,” to law enforcement. In their letter, the lawmakers noted a study that found more than 117 million American adults are in facial recognition databases that can be searched in criminal investigations. This figure reveals just how broadly American privacy and civil rights are implicated by the proliferation of facial recognition technology. Senator Markey and Representatives Gutiérrez and DeSaulnier sent their letter after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a report showing that Amazon Rekognition had misidentified 28 members of Congress in a set of public arrest photos, including the lawmakers.


Amazon employees, Amazon shareholders, and a coalition of nearly seventy civil rights organizations had all recently called on Amazon to halt the sale of its facial recognition technology to law enforcement.


“While facial recognition services might provide a valuable law enforcement tool, the efficacy and impact of the technology are not yet fully understood,” write the lawmakers in their letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “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.”


A copy of the letter to Amazon can be found HERE.


In their letter, the lawmakers ask Amazon to respond to questions that include:

  • Have any internal accuracy or bias assessments been performed on Rekognition, and what are the results for race, gender, skin pigmentation, and age?
  • What law enforcement or intelligence agencies has Amazon contacted or communicated with regarding acquisition of Rekognition?
  • Have any law enforcement agencies that use or are using Rekognition been investigated, sued, or otherwise reprimanded for engaging in unlawful or discriminatory policing practices?
  • Does Amazon build protections into the Rekognition system to protect the privacy rights of innocent Americans?
  • Are there any protections to ensure the privacy of children and how does Amazon follow the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act?
  • Does Amazon conduct any audits of Rekognition use by law enforcement to ensure that the software is not being abused for secretive government surveillance?
  • Is Amazon Rekognition currently integrated with any police body-camera technology or existing public-facing camera networks?
  • Are any government customers using Rekognition for continual, real-time facial recognition of the public?