Facial recognition software analyzes images of human faces for the purpose of identifying them. Unlike many other biometric systems, facial recognition can be used for general surveillance in combination with public video cameras, and it can be used in a passive way that doesn’t require the knowledge, consent, or participation of the subject.
Amazon is aggressively marketing its “Rekognition” facial recognition software to police, claiming that Rekognition can identify up to 100 faces in a single image, track people in real time through surveillance cameras, and scan footage from body cameras.
Last year, without any public debate, the Orlando, Florida police department began using Amazon Rekognition to compare people’s faces against a mugshot database. Reportedly, federal government agencies including ICE have also used the technology, culling through databases of driver’s licenses.
In July 2018, the ACLU tested Amazon’s “Rekognition” facial recognition software by using it to match members of Congress against a national database of 25,000 mugshots. The result was that Rekognition incorrectly identified 28 members of Congress as arrested criminals:
- 3 senators:
- John Isakson (R-Georgia)
- Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts)
- Pat Roberts (R-Kansas)
- 25 representatives:
- Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia)
- George Butterfield (D-North Carolina)
- Lacy Clay (D-Missouri)
- Mark DeSaulnier (D-California)
- Adriano Espaillat (D-New York)
- Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona)
- Thomas Garrett (R-Virginia)
- Greg Gianforte (R-Montana)
- Jimmy Gomez (D-California)
- Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona)
- Luis Gutiérrez (D-Illinois)
- Steve Knight (R-California)
- Leonard Lance (R-New Jersey)
- John Lewis (D-Georgia)
- Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey)
- David Loebsack (D-Iowa)
- David McKinley (R-West Virginia)
- John Moolenaar (R-Michigan)
- Tom Reed (R-New York)
- Bobby Rush (D-Illinois)
- Norma Torres (D-California)
- Marc Veasey (D-Texas)
- Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio)
- Steve Womack (R-Arkansas)
- Lee Zeldin (R-New York)
According to the ACLU:
Academic research has also already shown that face recognition is less accurate for darker-skinned faces and women. Our results validate this concern: Nearly 40 percent of Rekognition’s false matches in our test were of people of color, even though they make up only 20 percent of Congress.
More recently, as reported by the Los Angeles Times on August 13, 2019, the ACLU discovered that Rekognition incorrectly identified 26 California legislators as criminals.
That prompted California Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) to author Assembly Bill 1215 to ban facial recognition software from being used on police body cameras. Ting said:
“The software clearly is not ready for use in a law enforcement capacity. These mistakes, we can kind of chuckle at it, but if you get arrested and it’s on your record, it can be hard to get housing, get a job. It has real impacts.”
I can already anticipate what FOTM readers will say: “Members of Congress and of California’s legislature actually are criminals. It’s just they haven’t been arrested yet.” LOL
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