Agencies like the FBI, ICE, and several local police departments are using facial recognition technology that’s being supplied to them by tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.
Facial recognition is not a neutral technology. Academic research has already shown that facial recognition technology is less accurate for darker-skinned faces and women. This means that Black and Latinx people are much more likely to be misidentified and treated as a threat to law enforcement, biasing law enforcement agents before an encounter even begins. For Amazon’s Rekognition software, the default settings are alarmingly inaccurate and racially biased. In a recent test of Rekognition that ran pictures of every member of Congress against a collection of mugshots, there were 28 false matches, with significantly higher incorrect results for Black members of Congress like civil rights hero John Lewis.
Across the country, thousands of people are speaking up against the use of facial recognition technology, including activists, members of Congress, and even employees from these large tech companies. Amazon employees have signed a letter asking CEO Jeff Bezos to stop selling this technology. In an op-ed published last Fall, one of Amazon’s own employees warned that the technology’s known struggles with accurately identifying people with darker skin “will only reproduce and amplify existing systems of oppression.”
When companies profit from surveillance technology, communities of color pay the price. At a time when Black and immigrant communities are engaging in high-profile organizing, handing over this surveillance technology to government agencies and law enforcement threatens our freedom and lives.