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Rep. John Lewis on Failures of Amazon ReKognition Software

July 26, 2018
Press Release

          The results of the ACLU’s test of Amazon’s “Rekognition” software are deeply troubling.  As a society, we need technology to help resolve human problems, not to add to the mountain of injustices presently facing of people of color in this country. 

          Black and brown people are already unjustly targeted through a discriminatory sentencing system that has led to mass incarceration and devastated millions of families.  The poor are already ensnared by the complications of a judiciary that leads the innocent to plead guilty because they can find no other way out.

          The current leadership at the Department of Justice is already openly hostile to the rights and civil liberties of minority communities.  Last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation designated Black activists as extremists and terrorists, a move reminiscent of the damage of COINTELPRO.  The current Department of Homeland Security is already targeting and deporting brown immigrants in droves, some of whom are actually American citizens.  Communities of color are already protesting the unjust consequences of racial profiling as too many are killed or end up dead while in the custody of police. 

          I myself have suffered misidentification and erroneous targeting while traveling through airports and on airplanes as I commute between DC and Georgia.  What would happen, under these already threatening conditions, if people from these same communities were misidentified by facial recognition software?  How would they prove to police that a computerized result is false? 

         It is not enough for Amazon to advise users of a 20 percent failure rate in their software.  Law enforcement should not use this technology until the onerous civil rights and civil liberties issues are confronted and accuracy is guaranteed.  If industry wants to engage in the public sphere, it needs to make the public good, not profit, a top priority.  American families should not be collateral damage on the road to technological innovation. 

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The Congressional Black Caucus wrote a letter in May to Mr. Jeffrey Bezos on this matter.  Rep. Lewis is a signatory.