Dems demand info on law enforcement's use of Amazon facial recognition tool

A group of Democratic lawmakers are demanding more answers from Amazon about its contracts to provide law enforcement agencies with facial recognition technology.

The group sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Thursday saying that the company’s previous explanations to Congress about its Rekognition software were inadequate. Democratic lawmakers expressed concern about the potential threat the technology poses to civil liberties in the hands of police.

“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 reads. “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.”

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Among those who signed the letter were Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySenate Dems to Pompeo: Comments about NPR reporter 'insulting and contemptuous' Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill Twitter tells facial-recognition app maker to stop collecting its data MORE (D-Mass.), Rep. John LewisJohn LewisObama marks MLK Day by honoring King for his 'poetic brilliance' and 'moral clarity' The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial John Lewis to miss Martin Luther King Jr. Day event MORE (D-Ga.) and Rep Jimmy GomezJimmy GomezFormer undocumented workers fired from Trump properties attend Biden campaign event House Democrats offer bill to expand the estate tax House Democrats blur lines on support for impeachment MORE (D-Calif.).

An Amazon spokeswoman did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

The lawmakers wrote to Amazon in July about their concerns of the accuracy of Rekognition and its potential impact on people of color.

Amazon said in response that its technology had been rigorously tested and refused to provide any information on its law enforcement clients.

“Customer trust, privacy, and security are our top priorities at AWS,” Michael Punke, Amazon’s vice president for global public policy, wrote in response. “We have long been committed to working with federal and state legislatures to modernize outdated laws to enhance the privacy and security of our customers by preventing law enforcement from accessing data without a warrant.”

In the letter on Thursday, the Democratic members requested that Amazon provide them with results from accuracy tests of the Rekognition software. They also asked again for information on their government clients and if they audited law enforcement’s use of facial recognition to ensure that its not being employed in violation of civil rights law.

They asked that Amazon respond to their queries by December 13.