Amazon made a big oops with facial recognition software which incorrectly identified the faces of 28 prominent black lawmakers including Rep. John Lewis and Rep. Bobby L. Rush, and matched them to the face of criminals who had been charged with a crime.
The technology is already being used by some law enforcement agencies. Black men getting unjustly identified and falsely arrested is an issue in itself, so the new technology has raised even more alarming concern about the bias it presents.
“This test confirms that facial recognition is flawed, biased and dangerous,” said Jacob Snow, a technology and civil liberties lawyer with the A.C.L.U. of Northern California, reports the NY Times..
However white and black lawmakers were both attached to criminal mugshots. Among the list of misidentified lawmakers was Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez of Illinois and Representative Mark DeSaulnier of California, all who sent a letter to Amazon executive Jeff Bezos, saying there are “serious questions regarding whether Amazon should be selling its technology to law enforcement at this time.”
The civil liberties group used the Amazon’s facial software to compare the lawmakers pictures against a database of 25,000 publicly available mug shots and found that it “incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress with people who had been arrested, amounting to a 5 percent error rate among legislators,” the NY Times reports.
And it’s no surprise that African-American and Latino members of Congress were disproportionally misidentified as the people in mug shots.
Lewis and Representative Jimmy Gomez, a California Democrat wrote separate letters to Bezos. They want to meet “to discuss how to address the defects of this technology.”
Civil liberties groups argue that the technology is just a new way to keep people under surveillance and take away their ability to freely protest.
This month, Microsoft opted out of using the technology, saying it posed a risk that was too great to undertake for the tech company and they asked Congress to consider regulating its use.