Ellison-Cleaver Letter To Jeff Bezos
May. 25 2018 — 12:50p.m.
May 25, 2018 Jeffrey P. Bezos CEO Amazon, Inc. 410 Terry Avenue North Seattle, Washington 98109 Dear Mr. Bezos: I write to request information on the use of Amazon’s facial recognition technology, Rekognition, by United States law enforcement agencies. Among other things, I wish to know how many, and which law enforcement agencies are using Rekognition. In an ever-evolving technological landscape, it is important that the Fourth and First Amendment rights of all people be protected. According to a page on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) website, Rekognition is a “deep learning-based image recognition service which allows you to search, verify and organize millions of images.”1 The same web page describes Rekognition as a tool for performing “realtime face searches against collections with tens of millions of faces.”2 Amazon’s website lists the Washington County Sheriff’s Department and the City of Orlando Police Department as Rekognition customers.3 A series of studies have shown that face recognition technology is consistently less accurate in identifying the faces of African Americans and women as compared to Caucasians and men.45 The disproportionally high arrest rates for members of the black community6 make the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement problematic, because it could serve to reinforce this trend. Facial recognition technology, when used in concert with wearable body camera technology by the police, raises significant Fourth Amendment concerns about warrantless surveillance. It is therefore troubling that emails between Amazon and the Washington County Sheriff’s Department in Oregon obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the ACLU of Oregon indicate that the company offered to connect Washington County with a body camera manufacturer.7 To better understand Rekognition’s use by law enforcement agencies, I seek the following information: 1. Which law enforcement agencies, in addition to Washington County, Oregon and the City of Orlando currently use Amazon’s Rekognition Software? Please provide a list of law enforcement customers that are currently using Rekognition. Please provide a list of any such customers who use the Rekognition facial recognition feature.
gender.11 What steps is Amazon taking to ensure that Rekognition is not facilitating systems that disproportionately impact people based on protected characteristics in potential violation of federal civil rights laws? I respectfully request answers to my questions by June 20, 2018. Sincerely, _______________________________ Keith Ellison Member of Congress _______________________________ Emanuel Cleaver, II Member of Congress Cc: The Honorable Jefferson B. Sessions, III Attorney General 1 Das, R. “Amazon Rekognition Announces Real-Time Face Recognition, Support for Recognition of Text in Image, and Improved Face Detection.” Amazon Website. (November 21, 2017). Online at: https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/machine-learning/amazon-rekognition-announces-real-time-face-recognition-supportfor-recognition-of-text-in-image-and-improved-face-detection/. 2 Ibid. 3 “Amazon Rekognition Customers.” Amazon Website. (Accessed May 22, 2018). Online at: https://aws.amazon.com/rekognition/customers/ 4 Klare, B. “Face Recognition Performance: Role of Demographic Information.” IEEE Transactions on Information and Security. (October 9, 2012). Online at: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/6327355/. 5 Buolamwini, J. “Gender Shades: Intersectional Identity Accuracy Disparities in Commercial Gender Classification.” Proceedings of Machine Learning Research. Online at: http://proceedings.mlr.press/v81/buolamwini18a/buolamwini18a.pdf. 6 Gross, S. “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States.” National Registry of Exonerations. (March 7, 2017). Online at: https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Race_and_Wrongful_Convictions.pdf. 7 Cagle, M. “Amazon Teams Up with Law Enforcement to Deploy Dangerous New Facial Recognition Technology.” ACLU. (May 22, 2018). Online at: https://www.aclu.org/blog/privacy-technology/surveillance-technologies/amazonteams-law-enforcement-deploy-dangerous-new 8 “Justice Department Awards over $23 Million in Funding for Body Worn Camera Pilot Program to Support Law Enforcement Agencies in 32 States.” (Sept. 21, 2015). Online at: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-departmentawards-over-23-million-funding-body-worn-camera-pilot-program-support-law. 9 “Amazon Rekognition Customers.” Amazon Website. (Accessed May 22, 2018). Online at: https://aws.amazon.com/rekognition/customers/. 10 “Data Types: Amazon Rekognition product documentation.” Amazon Website. (Accessed May 23, 2018). Online at: https://docs.aws.amazon.com/rekognition/latest/dg/API_Types.html. 11 Simonite, T. “Photo Algorithms ID White Men Fine – Black Women, Not So Much.” Wired.com (Feb. 6, 2018). Online at: https://www.wired.com/story/photo-algorithms-id-white-men-fineblack-women-not-so-much/.