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 MarkeyDems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Overnight Energy: Watchdog investigating EPA enforcement numbers | EPA's Wheeler faces Senate grilling | Interior's offshore drilling staff returning to work during shutdown EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE (D-Mass.), Rep. John LewisJohn LewisJimmy Carter tells Booker: 'I hope you run for president' Whoopi Goldberg hits Ocasio-Cortez: You have to do something before you 'start pooping on people' Democrats launch ‘drain-the-swamp’ agenda MORE (D-Ga.) and Rep Jimmy GomezJimmy GomezDem added to Ways and Means Committee amid desire for more Hispanic members Overnight Energy: Trump threatens to stop FEMA funding for California fire relief | Wheeler officially nominated to be EPA head | Wildlife refuges to get staff during shutdown Border policies are endangering lives 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.