Dem requests DOJ probe on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology

Dem requests DOJ probe on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology
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A Democratic lawmaker is raising concerns about law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technologies, saying it could pose issues for minority Americans and potentially be in violation of civil rights protections.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) requested in a letter Wednesday to acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore, who leads the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, that the department investigate whether authorities' use of the software violates civil rights safeguards.


Cleaver wrote in the letter, obtained by The Hill, that while the technology could be useful, “if not appropriately implemented, use of the technology may threaten the life and liberty of Americans with crushing force.”

The Democrat cited past concerns about Amazon’s facial recognition software, known as Rekognition, after a American Civil Liberties Union report said that the software would disproportionately impact minority communities.

“A growing body of evidence suggests that these technologies have the potential to exacerbate and entrench existing policing disparities along racial lines,” Cleaver wrote, referring to reports that Rekognition was found to be less accurate for African-American people.

“Additionally, the potential to monitor and enroll identified Americans into databases without their knowledge poses critical legal concerns — particularly if deployed to monitor peaceful protesters,” he stated.

The lawmaker requested that the Justice Department launch a probe into law enforcement’s current use of the technology and determine if it violated civil rights protections.

“As consequential as the technology may be, it is my continued hope that the pursuit of justice does not progress by means of coinciding injustice,” Cleaver wrote.

Cleaver has previously raised concerns over Amazon's software: He and Rep. Keith EllisonKeith Maurice EllisonDerek Chauvin allowed to establish residency outside of Minnesota while awaiting trial in George Floyd case Officers in George Floyd's death appear in court, motion for separate trials Ex-Minneapolis officer involved in Floyd death asks judge to dismiss murder charge MORE (D-Minn.) requested in May that Amazon answer questions about its facial recognition technology, including which law enforcement agencies are using the software.

The technology giant has previously defended the software, asserting that it is not a surveillance tool and saying the benefits of the service outweigh any possible misuse.

"Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology," an Amazon spokesperson told The Hill in May. "Imagine if customers couldn’t buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?"

Others have similarly flagged the software, including Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump combative, Biden earnest during distanced TV duel Cedric Richmond's next move: 'Sky's the limit' if Biden wins Democrats preview strategy on Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation hearings this week MORE (D-La.), who also sent a letter to Amazon in May on behalf of the caucus about the technology.

Ali Breland contributed.

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