Amazon facial recognition thinks 28 Congressmen look like known criminals -- at default settings

CNET | 7/26/2018 | Sean Hollister
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Amazon is trying to sell its Rekognition facial recognition technology to law enforcment, but the American Civil Liberties Union doesn't think that's a very good idea. And today, the ACLU provided some seemingly compelling evidence -- by using Amazon's own tool to compare 2,500 criminal mugshots to members of Congress.

Sure enough, Amazon's tool thought 28 different members of Congress looked like people who've been arrested.

List - ACLU

Here's the full list, according to the ACLU:

That's a lot of Congresspeople who may soon have some very valid questions about facial recognition and its potential to be abused -- particularly since Amazon thinks the ACLU didn't use it properly to begin with!

ACLU - Matches - Rekognition - Software - Default

It turns out that the ACLU got its mugshot matches by using the Rekognition software at its default 80-percent confidence threshold setting, rather than the 95-percent plus confidence level that Amazon recommends for law enforcement agencies.

"While 80% confidence is an acceptable threshold for photos of hot dogs, chairs, animals, or other social media use cases, it wouldn't be appropriate for identifying individuals with a reasonable level of certainty. When using facial recognition for law enforcement activities, we guide customers to set a threshold of at least 95% or higher," an Amazon spokesperson told CNET by email.

ACLU - Lawyer - Tells - CNET - Amazon

But an ACLU lawyer tells CNET that Amazon doesn't necessarily steer law enforcement agencies towards that higher threshold -- if a police department uses the software, it'll be set to the same 80-percent threshold by default, and won't ask them to change it even if they intend to use it to identify criminals. "Amazon makes no effort to ask users what they are using Rekognition for," says ACLU attorney Jacob Snow.

The ACLU says that even when it comes to facial recognition for security purposes, Amazon's website suggests that the 80-percent confidence threshold is sufficent.

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