Did the ACLU discover that 28 members of Congress were criminals? Not exactly.

The future is now! And it's kind of scary.

Amazon's come a long way from being the little online bookstore that could. Now, in addition to delivering your packages, running your smart home features, and telling you what to wear, it may also soon be helping the government track every move you make.

A few items on that list are a little creepy, but it's really that last one that's setting off red flags with people and groups like the ACLU concerned with civil liberties.


In 2016, the company launched Amazon Rekognition, its flagship image recognition software. The basic premise was that you could take a picture, run it through the software, and it'd respond by telling you what the picture was. The example used in the rollout was a photo of a dog. Awww!

Fast forward to 2018, and Rekognition has gotten a few upgrades. It's even being tested out by a handful of police departments. The company boasts about the technology's ability to detect, track, and analyze photos or videos of people. They refer to it as "high-quality person tracking" and "activity detection."

"Activating a city-wide facial recognition system could be as easy as flipping a switch," the ACLU's Matt Cagle warns in a YouTube video. "Body cams were designed to keep officers accountable to the public, but facial recognition turns these devices into surveillance machines."

The ACLU has been trying to sound the alarm about the dangers of facial recognition, and it might have just found a way to get the attention of people who can help: Congress.

It's unlikely a profit-driven company like Amazon will simply choose to abandon this admittedly impressive and lucrative tech on its own. Even if it did, another company would surely swoop in with its own version. To protect people from the obvious abuses that can come with far-reaching surveillance, it's going to take an act of Congress to put restrictions on how this technology can be used.

To prove a point, the ACLU ran photos of every member of Congress through the Rekognition software, comparing it with criminal databases. What they found was shocking.  

The analysis incorrectly matched the faces of 28 members of Congress with mugshots.

In other words, not only might this new software be used as the backbone of a new surveillance state, but it also might flag you as a criminal. That's not ideal! Thankfully, it caught congresspeople's attention, with a number of senators and representatives issuing statements about the experiment.

The ACLU's study also revealed another issue with the technology: People of color are disproportionately likely to get a false match.

Six members of the Congressional Black Caucus were falsely matched to mugshots. Despite that just 20% of members of Congress are people of color, 39% of false matches were people of color.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Illinois), who was one of the politicians wrongly matched by Rekognition, signed a letter with other congresspeople to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressing concerns. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

"It’s not hard to imagine a police officer getting a 'match' indicating that a person has a previous concealed-weapon arrest, biasing the officer before an encounter even begins," the ACLU's Jacob Snow wrote on the group's blog. "Or an individual getting a knock on the door from law enforcement, and being questioned or having their home searched, based on a false identification."

Snow continued:

"An identification — whether accurate or not — could cost people their freedom or even their lives. People of color are already disproportionately harmed by police practices, and it’s easy to see how Rekognition could exacerbate that. A recent incident in San Francisco provides a disturbing illustration of that risk. Police stopped a car, handcuffed an elderly Black woman and forced her to kneel at gunpoint — all because an automatic license plate reader improperly identified her car as a stolen vehicle."

But there are some simple things you can do to prevent facial recognition software from being used the wrong way.

For one, you can join the ACLU's efforts to petition Amazon to do the right thing and stop selling surveillance equipment to the government. You can also donate to the ACLU to help fund its efforts to fight back against government overreach and threats to our privacy.

The most important thing you can do is to call up your representatives at the federal, state, and local levels. Let them know that this is something that concerns you and that you'd like to see action taken to make sure this technology doesn't get misused.

Courtesy of FIELDTRIP
True

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected diverse communities due largely in part to social factors such as inadequate access to housing, income, dietary options, education and employment — all of which have been shown to affect people's physical health.

Recognizing that inequity, Harlem-based chef JJ Johnson sought out to help his community maximize its health during the pandemic — one grain at a time.

Johnson manages FIELDTRIP, a health-focused restaurant that strives to bring people together through the celebration of rice, a grain found in cuisines of countless cultures.

"It was very important for me to show the world that places like Harlem want access to more health-conscious foods," Johnson said. "The people who live in Harlem should have the option to eat fresh, locally farmed and delicious food that other communities have access to."

Lack of education and access to those healthy food options is a primary driver of why 31% of adults in Harlem are struggling with obesity — the highest rate of any neighborhood in New York City and 7% higher than the average adult obesity rate across the five boroughs.

Obesity increases risk for heart disease or diabetes, which in turn leaves Harlem's residents — who are 76% Black or LatinX — at heightened risk for complications with COVID-19.

Keep Reading Show less

Lately, Twitter has been a rough place for famous Chrises. First Evans had his day on the trending side bar, and now it's Pratt's turn. With the way things are going, we cringe for what's in store for Hemsworth.

Earlier this week, Warrior Nun writer Amy Berg posted a photo on Twitter of four famous Chrises - Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine, and Chris Pratt. "One has to go," Berg captioned the photo.

Pratt started trending as he was quickly dubbed the "worst Chris." And things just got worse from there. Until some real-life heroes stepped in and tried to address the situation, defending their co-star and friend.


Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less
via Witty Buttons / Twitter

Back in 2017, when white supremacist Richard Spencer was socked in the face by someone wearing all black at Trump's inauguration, it launched an online debate, "Is it OK to punch a Nazi?"

The essential nature of the debate was whether it was acceptable for people to act violently towards someone with repugnant reviews, even if they were being peaceful. Some suggested people should confront them peacefully by engaging in a debate or at least make them feel uncomfortable being Nazi in public.

Keep Reading Show less

A photo of Joe Biden hugging and kissing his only living son, Hunter, is circulating after Newsmax TV host John Cardillo shared it on Twitter with the caption, "Does this look like an appropriate father/son interaction to you?"

The question is clearly meant to be a dig at Biden, whose well-documented life in politics includes many examples of both his deep love for his family and his physical expressions of affection. While his opponents have cherry-picked photos to try to paint him as "creepy," those who know him well—and who are in some of those viral images—defend Biden's expressions of affection as those of a close friend and grandfatherly figure. (And in fact, at least one photo of Biden holding and kissing a child's face was of him and his grandson at his son Beau's funeral, taken as a still shot from this video.)

Everyone has their own level of comfort with physical space and everyone's line of what's appropriate when it comes to physical affection are different, but some accusations of inappropriateness are just...sad. And this photo with this caption is one of those cases.

Keep Reading Show less