By Julia Gonzalves

Over the past several years, Amazon has expanded its empire as the company moved from “Prime-Member Shipping”, to developing the Amazon Echo Dot, to now establishing a facial recognition technology called “Rekognition”. Rekognition is an artificial intelligence tool that helps identify, track and analyze up to 100 people in a single image. Amazon began to market Rekognition to local, state and federal agencies, and have obtained customers, like the city of Orlando, Florida and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, for surveillance and investigation purposes.

As amazing as this new technology seems, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) does have concerns about the new program, due to its ability to track potential criminals and activists.  The ACLU concerns sparked as the organization conducted a test with Rekognition. The tests results were starling as the Amazon software program incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress, identifying them as other people who have been arrested for a crime. Nearly 40% of Rekognition’s false matches were people of color, even though they make up only about a fifth of Congress. The Congressional Black Caucus informed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos that there may be profound negative unintended consequences for Black people, undocumented immigrants, and protestors.

Additionally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is conscious about the potential for grave abuse of this technology. ICE officials have articulated that Rekognition may drastically enhance the agency’s enforcement power and make undocumented immigrants afraid to seek necessary help at sensitive locations, such as medical facilities or houses of worship. Additionally, ICE believes that the program will allow an increased number of detentions, apprehensions, and removal.

Amazon has continued to push Rekognition onto governmental agencies, as the company was in communication with Ice’s Homeland Security Investigations office. It appears that ICE may be open to some ideas but would need to speak and develop additional relationships to help strengthen the programs ability.

It is difficult to say that a program like Rekognition would not be  useful in extreme circumstances where it coul help detain criminals that roam the street. However, based on the opinions from government agencies, it is also difficult to say that Rekognition would go off without a hitch. With the percentage of Congressional members that were falsely identified, there is not much to say that the program wouldn’t correctly identify the correct suspect who is concealing a weapon to the police. It is possible that although Rekognition has good intentions, the program itself could cause people their freedom or their lives.

Student Bio: Julia Gonsalves is a 3L at Suffolk University Law School. She is currently a Content Editor of the Journal of High Technology Law. Julia is originally from Newington, CT and received her Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences from Quinnipiac University.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.


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