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Members of U.S. Congress criticize Amazon responses in new letter requesting facial recognition details


Eight democrats from the U.S. Congress have sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, requesting additional information about its Rekognition facial biometric service and expressing concerns about its accuracy, potential bias, and affect on free speech. Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) told BuzzFeed News in an interview that responses from the company to two previous letters were not satisfactory, calling them a “paste job.”

In the letter (PDF), Senator Edward Markey and seven house democrats refer to reports in the Daily Beast about Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s consideration of using Rekognition, and in BuzzFeed about a lack of training received by police from the company.

“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,” the representatives write. “Notably, these pilot programs lack key internal and external policy guidelines, and were reportedly initiated without any hands-on training from Amazon for participating law enforcement officers.”

“If there’s a problem with this technology, it could have a profound impact on livelihoods and lives,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez told BuzzFeed News. “There are no checks or balances on the tech that’s coming out — and this is in the hands of law enforcement.”

The representatives ask for information about Amazon’s internal testing for accuracy and bias, including the results of any tests, and whether they have been independently verified. They also ask if Rekognition contains any built-in privacy protection or automatic deletion mechanisms, and if the company audits the use of its technology by law enforcement. Amazon is also asked if the technology is currently integrated with any police body cameras or public-facing camera networks.

The congresspeople ask that the company provide its response by December 13.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) recently requested that NIST create and endorse standards and best practices for independent testing of facial recognition technology as a way of mitigating discrimination and helping its customers make informed decisions.

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