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.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Among those who signed the letter were Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyJoseph Kennedy mulling primary challenge to Markey in Massachusetts Overnight Energy: Trump sparks new fight over endangered species protections | States sue over repeal of Obama power plant rules | Interior changes rules for ethics watchdogs To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies MORE (D-Mass.), Rep. John LewisJohn LewisCummings invites Trump to visit Baltimore House Democrat knocks Trump's Cummings tweet: 'This guy is a terrible, terrible human being' George Wallace's daughter: 'I saw Daddy a lot' during 2016 election MORE (D-Ga.) and Rep Jimmy GomezJimmy GomezHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Lawmakers call for 'time out' on facial recognition tech Amazon shareholders vote down limits on facial recognition software 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 “We have long been committed to working with federal and state legislatures to modernize outdated laws to enhance the privacy and security of our customers by preventing law enforcement from accessing data without a warrant.”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.