Amazon's facial recognition software: House Dems fear racial bias

Democratic members of the House called Thursday for Amazon to provide more detail about its proprietary facial recognition software that has drawn sharp rebukes from some employees and critics concerned about potentially discriminatory applications.

In a letter addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the seven House Democrats said Amazon “failed to provide sufficient answers” in response to previous requests for information last July. The lawmakers asked Amazon to disclose the steps it has taken to assess the “Rekognition” software’s accuracy, as well as its data security protocols and potential for biased results.

“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,” the letter says. “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.”

The lawmakers asked Amazon to respond by Dec. 13. Amazon did not immediately return FOX Business’s request for comment on the letter.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been an outspoken critic of Amazon’s facial recognition technology, noting in a study last July that the system had incorrectly identified 28 active members of Congress as criminals. The group has also said Rekognition’s false matches disproportionately affect people of color.

A group of Amazon employees called on Bezos last June to end attempts to sell the software to law enforcement.

Amazon has drawn widespread scrutiny in recent months over its apparent efforts to market the facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies. The Daily Beast reported in October that Amazon Web Services representatives met with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to discuss potential uses for the software.

“We participated with a number of other technology companies in technology ‘boot camps’ sponsored by McKinsey Company, where a number of technologies were discussed, including Rekognition,” an Amazon Web Services spokesperson said in a statement at the time. “As we usually do, we followed up with customers who were interested in learning more about how to use our services.”