Facial recognition technology made by Amazon that is being used by some police departments and other organizations incorrectly matched U.S. Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) with people who had been charged with a crime, says the American Civil Liberties Union, reports the New York Times. The errors emerged in a larger test in which the civil liberties group used Amazon’s facial software to compare the photos of all federal lawmakers against a database of 25,000 publicly available mug shots. In the test, the Amazon technology incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress with people who had been arrested, a 5 percent error rate.
The test disproportionally misidentified African-American and Latino members of Congress as the people in mug shots. “This test confirms that facial recognition is flawed, biased and dangerous,” said Jacob Snow of the Northern California ACLU. Three of the misidentified legislators — Senator Edward Markey (D-MA), Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), wrote Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, saying there are “serious questions regarding whether Amazon should be selling its technology to law enforcement at this time.” Nina Lindsey, an Amazon Web Services spokeswoman, said customers had used the facial recognition technology for beneficial purposes, including preventing human trafficking and reuniting missing children with their families. She said the ACLU used the company’s face-matching technology, called Amazon Rekognition, differently during its test from what the company recommended for law enforcement customers.