Congressmen demand answers after Amazon facial recognition matches them to mugshots

You can read the letters to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos here.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
2 min read

Here are the mismatched members of Congress, according to the ACLU.


Five members of Congress are demanding answers and an "immediate" meeting with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, after a test of Amazon's Rekognition facial recognition software falsely matched them and 23 colleagues with mugshots of criminals.

US Reps. Jimmy Gomez, John Lewis, Luis Gutierrez and Mark DeSaulnier and Sen. Edward Markey sent the letters Thursday. CNET obtained copies of the letters, which you can read below. 

The issue surfaced after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) used Amazon's software to compare pictures of US representatives and senators against a database of 25,000 criminal mugshots. The ACLU is pitching the outcome as evidence that Congress should consider regulating facial recognition tech. 

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat from North Carolina, didn't sign on to the letters, but he offered a statement Friday.

"I am troubled by the inaccurate outcomes associated with this technology, as there are clear blind spots that will have unintended consequences specifically for people of color," Butterfield said. "While this technology could have far-reaching economic potential, I encourage Amazon to better train its users on best practices for using this technology, be open and up-front about its limitations, and hire more employees of color who can properly assist with addressing the defects of this technology."

In their letters, the lawmakers said they'd like to know why they were matched. You can read some of the answers in our post from earlier Thursday, including why Amazon believes the ACLU's test wasn't fair. 

Watch this: Privacy advocates have issues with Amazon's facial recognition being used by police

But that's not all these members of Congress are asking for. "We request an immediate meeting with you to discuss how to address the defects of this technology in order to prevent inaccurate outcomes," Gomez and Lewis wrote. 

The five members of Congress who signed the letters are also asking whether Amazon's Rekognition software is racially biased, given that it appears to have disproportionately matched people of color to the mugshots.

Amazon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about whether Bezos will accept the invitation.

You can read the full letters here:

BuzzFeed News was the first to obtain the letter from Gomez and Lewis.

CNET's Laura Hautala contributed to this story.

First published July 26, 12:30 p.m. PT
Update, July 27 at 9:47 a.m.: Adds statement from Rep. G.K. Butterfield

Correction, July 27: We mistakenly wrote that the ACLU used a database of 2,500 mugshots. The number was actually 25,000.