Amazon’s facial recognition misidentified Boston athletes as criminals

Amazon’s facial recognition technology falsely matched nearly 30 professional athletes to individuals in a mugshot database, the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said.

Amazon’s technology, called Rekognition, has faced similar criticism in the past. Earlier this year, the ACLU found that it also mistook one in five California lawmakers for criminals, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Last week, the Massachusetts ACLU chapter announced that it compared headshots of 188 athletes from New England professional sports teams to a database of 20,000 mugshots. The athletes were from the Boston Bruins, the Boston Celtics, the New England Patriots, and the Boston Red Sox.

In total, 27 athletes across all of the teams were falsely matched to the mugshots, the ACLU said, including Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale, Patriots running back James White, Patriots wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, and Patriots defensive back Duron Harmon.

In a statement provided by the ACLU, Harmon called the technology “flawed” and said it should “not be used by the government without protections.”

The ACLU felt similarly:

“The results of this scan add to the mounting evidence that unregulated face surveillance technology in the hands of government agencies is a serious threat to individual rights, due process, and democratic freedoms,” Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Face surveillance is dangerous when it doesn’t work, and when it does.”

In a statement to 7 News Boston, a local television station, Amazon Web Services said the ACLU chapter was “misrepresenting” its facial recognition technology.

“As we’ve said many times in the past, when used with the recommended 99 percent confidence threshold and as one part of a human-driven decision, facial recognition technology can be used for a long list of beneficial purposes, from assisting in the identification of criminals to helping find missing children to inhibiting human trafficking,” the company told the news outlet in a statement. “We continue to advocate for federal legislation of facial recognition technology to ensure responsible use.”

Last month, Recode reported that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the company’s public policy team was working on facial recognition regulations it hopes to share with lawmakers, essentially trying to write laws that would regulate the space it’s operating in.

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Andrew Wyrich

Andrew Wyrich

Andrew Wyrich is a politics staff writer for the Daily Dot, covering the intersection of politics and the internet. Andrew has written for USA Today, NorthJersey.com, and other newspapers and websites. His work has been recognized by the Society of the Silurians, Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).