Amazon has failed to answer key questions from lawmakers about privacy, civil rights implications of sale of facial recognition technology 


Washington (November 29, 2018) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Representatives Jimmy Gomez (CA-34) and Luis Gutiérrez (IL-04) today led a letter to Amazon renewing their request for information about the sale of the company’s facial recognition technology, “Rekognition,” to law enforcement.  In July, several members of Congress requested information regarding the software in July. Following-up on Amazon’s insufficientresponse, the lawmakers express heightened concern given recent reports that Amazon is actively marketing its biometric technology to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as other reports of pilot programs lacking any hands-on training from Amazon for participating law enforcement officers. Senator Markey, and Reps. Gomez and Gutiérrez and their colleagues sent their original letter after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a report revealing that Amazon Rekognition had misidentified 28 members of Congress in a set of public arrest photos, including the lawmakers.


Also signing the letter are Representatives Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Pramilla Jayapal (WA-07), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), and Rep. John Lewis (GA-05).


“Facial recognition technology may one day serve as a useful tool for law enforcement officials working to protect the American public and keep us safe,” write the lawmakers in their letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “However, at this time, 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.”


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


In their letter, the lawmakers demand answers to outstanding questions, including:

  • Have any internal accuracy or bias assessments been performed on Rekognition, and what are the results for race, gender, skin pigmentation, and age?
  • Does Amazon build protections into the Rekognition system to protect the privacy rights of innocent Americans?
  • Does Amazon Rekognition contain a mechanism for automatically deleting unused biometric data?
  • 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?