Police Bodycam Facial Recognition Matches 26 California Lawmakers With Mugshots

California lawmakers are calling for a ban on the use of facial recognition software in body-worn police cameras, warning that embracing such technology could put lives at risk.

The use of face-scanning products by Californian law enforcement was firmly condemned during a press conference in support of AB 1215 that was spearheaded by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles).

If passed, the Body Camera Accountability Act would outlaw California law enforcement from adding face and other biometric surveillance technology to officer-worn body cameras. To back up their rhetoric, the two lawmakers brought more than words. They brought evidence.

Alongside the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Ting and Jones-Sawyer revealed a test of recognition software made by Amazon had been conducted on 120 legislators. Their faces were run through a public database of 25,000 suspect mugshots—resulting in 26 false matches. Ting and Jones-Sawyer revealed that they were both misidentified in the fresh round of testing.

The demonstration, which used the Jeff Bezos-owned technology giant's product "Rekognition," had similar results to a study completed last year that mistakenly identified 28 members of Congress as people who had previously been arrested for allegedly committing a crime.

But the findings were today slammed by Amazon, with the company accusing the ACLU of "knowingly misusing and misrepresenting" its Rekognition software to make headlines.

TODAY @ACLU_NorCal is releasing the results of our facial-recognition test comparing California legislators with public mugshots. TWENTY SIX CA lawmakers falsely matched with a mugshot. #RecognizeThis

Make sure your legislator votes YES on #AB1215. 1/ https://t.co/d94Ll37WhP pic.twitter.com/9UXrJbaonu

— Jake Snow (@snowjake) August 13, 2019

According to Amazon, the Rekognition software provides "highly accurate facial analysis and facial recognition" that is able to identify objects, people, text, scenes, and activities. It has been used by the Washington County Sheriff's Office and the City of Orlando, Florida.

Amid concerns that such tools could negatively discriminate against communities of color, Ting said the new study showed "this software is absolutely not ready for prime time."

The assemblyman said: "By deploying facial recognition software in these body cameras, instead of a tool that is supposed to build bridges, it becomes a tool of surveillance."

"While we can laugh about it as legislators it is no laughing matter if you are an individual who is trying to get a job, or get a home. If you get falsely accused of an arrest it could impact your ability to get employment, it absolutely impacts your ability to get housing," Ting continued.

Jones-Sawyer, chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, said he had been misidentified by police in the past and warned that adding technology into the mix could make situations worse.

"I've heard of far too many cases of mistaken identity leading to arrests, in the worst cases death. This is without technology which threatens to automate mistaken identity and risk the health and safety of countless people of color," Jones-Sawyer said.

"This fear is real. As I stand here before you now, there is a technology that would have you believe that the only duly-elected representative of the 59th assembly district is a criminal. We cannot risk subjecting civilians to technology that might falsely put them in real danger."

Matt Cagle, an attorney at the ACLU, said during yesterday's press conference that the spread of face-scanning body cameras in California would be a "massive public safety hazard." He said the results of the latest Amazon test had been independently verified by a computer scientist. "One false match is too many, especially when people's lives are at stake," Cagle told reporters.

There is no date set for AB 1215 to be heard on the Senate floor, but it is expected shortly after passing from the Senate Public Safety Committee, The Sacramento Bee reported this week.

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson told Newsweek: "The ACLU is once again knowingly misusing and misrepresenting Amazon Rekognition to make headlines.

The tech company continued: "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."

In June last year, Amazon strongly defended its face-scanning product in a blog post, saying: "There has been no reported law enforcement abuse of Amazon Rekognition.

"It is the wrong approach to impose a ban on... new technologies because they might be used by bad actors for nefarious purposes in the future. The world would be a very different place if we had restricted people from buying computers because it was possible to use that computer to do harm. The same can be said of thousands of technologies upon which we all rely each day."

But two months ago, Axon, one of the largest bodycam makers in the U.S., which serves dozens of American law enforcement agencies, announced that it would not sell facial recognition software in its products because it was "not currently reliable enough to ethically justify its use", as first reported by The New York Times.