In June 2018, Amazon began to receive backlash for selling their new facial recognition software program Rekognition to law enforcement agencies, such as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). After reports surfaced that Rekognition was not accurate enough for police use, the American Civil Liberties Union performed an experiment on the software.
Comparing all 535 members of Congress to a database of 25,000 mugshots, the ACLU received 28 false matches – even though none of these Congressional members had ever been charged with a crime. Even more startling was the finding that nearly 40% of these false matches were people of color, although only 20% of Congress members are not white. This isn’t just true for Rekognition: Returning more false positives for nonwhite faces is a common defect in facial recognition technology.
The Potential for Misusing Facial Recognition Tools
Accuracy issues still abound with facial recognition technology, and yet police forces and other agencies are increasingly using this software to assist with criminal investigations. After the ACLU shared the results of their test, representatives from Amazon noted that the default confidence level for Rekognition is only 80%, and stressed that law enforcement agencies must increase statistical confidence to at least 95% for criminal cases.
Of course, as the ACLU noted in their response, there is nothing to guarantee that organizations like ICE, the FBI, or state police forces will be using the proper accuracy setting. Although police forces are usually supposed to check all face matches manually, it’s easy to see how this step could be overlooked. Civil rights advocates worry that government agents who use Amazon’s Rekognition software may be enabled to discriminate against people of color, and abuse suspect privacy rights.
Defending Civil Rights in the Tech Era
Because Rekognition is significantly cheaper than the average facial recognition system, cities around the country have already signed on for pilot programs with Amazon, and can continue to use their services once the pilots expire. While the debate continues in Congress and beyond, innocent people may be unjustly suspected of crimes they did not commit, or harassed on the basis of their ethnicity.
As Baltimore civil rights attorneys, our team at Brown & Barron, LLC can help you fight back against police misconduct and unfair racial profiling tactics. Civil rights law is complex and ever-evolving, so it’s crucial to have skilled legal counsel on your side. With more than 100 Maryland trials as lead counsel, our award-winning team can give you the aggressive and uncompromising advocacy you need in these difficult situations.
Do you suspect that you were a victim of a civil rights violation? Contact us at (410) 698-1717 for more information.