IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Lawmakers demand answers from Amazon on facial recognition tech

Their questions center on potential privacy threats and whether the software is being marketed to law enforcement without adequate precautions.
Image: When using Amazon Rekognition to analyze video, you can track people through a video even when their faces are not visible.
When using Amazon Rekognition to analyze video, you can track people through a video even when their faces are not visible.Amazon

Eight Democratic lawmakers are demanding answers from Amazon regarding privacy concerns with the company's facial recognition software that has been used by some local police departments.

The lawmakers said in a letter Thursday that Amazon had “failed to provide sufficient answers” to questions about the program, called Rekognition, that they had previously presented to the online retail giant.

“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 wrote.

The letter demands transparency regarding Rekognition’s accuracy, biases and built-in “protections.”

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.

The inquiries were sparked by “recent revelations,” they said, suggesting Amazon could be “actively marketing this product to law enforcement entities, including the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement” without adequate precautions.

“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 lawmakers wrote.

“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,” they added.

Amazon shareholders, activist groups and the company’s own employees all have voiced concern with the Rekognition technology, citing potential privacy threats.

Members of Congress sent a similar letter to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive officer, in July, requesting greater transparency regarding Rekognition. But according to the lawmakers, Amazon did not offer an adequate response.

Lawmakers asked Bezos to respond to their latest letter by Dec. 13.