Scan Congress


We deployed a team of activists wearing jumpsuits with phone strapped to their heads conducting live facial recognition surveillance in the halls of Congress, to show why this tech should be banned.

Using Amazon's commercially available Rekognition software -- running on smartphones strapped to our heads -- our team ran 13,732 biometric face scans in Washington, DC. By comparing live footage against a database we had assembled, the system successfully identified a member of Congress in real time: Representative Mark DeSaulnier of California.

Amazon's facial recognition software also thought that it had identified 7 journalists and 25 Amazon lobbyists that we had pre-loaded into the database. But all of those matches turned out to be incorrect. The software even thought that it spotted singer Roy Orbison who of course has been deceased since 1988 (RIP).

This underscores our message: facial recognition is invasive and dangerous when it works, but it's also dangerous when it doesn't work. In our case, it's easy to laugh when the software thinks a member of our team is an Amazon lobbyist, or when it thinks a random staffer is a prominent journalist. But law enforcement agencies are using flawed facial recognition software right now -- and the potential harm of a mismatch is staggering. It could land an innocent person in prison, or worse. And current facial recognition algorithms exhibit systemic racial bias, exacerbating existing forms of discrimination in our criminal justice system. [...]

After several hours of scanning thousands of faces, our team of activists were approached by Capitol Hill police and threatened with arrest if they did not leave the Capitol grounds. They were thrown out not because they were using facial recognition surveillance -- that's perfectly legal until Congress gets off their butts and passes laws to ban it -- but because police claimed they were violating a law against blocking passageways. Of course, they weren't blocking passageways and we have the whole thing on video to prove it. It seems that Congress thinks facial recognition surveillance is just fine as long as its used on all of us but not them.

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