Amazon Met With ICE Officials to Market Its Facial Recognition Product

According to documents released Tuesday by the Project on Government Oversight, earlier this year Amazon employees met with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to market “Rekognition” — the company’s facial recognition technology that we have been sounding the alarm on for months.

The prospect of the Trump administration using facial recognition to supercharge its deportation machine is very alarming indeed. So to find out what’s happening, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Wednesday demanding that the Department of Homeland Security release information relating to where and how it intends to use facial recognition as well as who it has purchased the technology from.

Amazon boasts that Rekognition can be used for surveillance on a massive scale, like tracking people in real-time, tagging over 100 people in a photograph, or identifying people just walking down the street. ICE has not released any information explaining what uses of Rekognition it has explored or whether it intends to buy it (or other face surveillance technology) to assist with immigration enforcement efforts. If ICE does plan to use this technology, it would be a significant cause for concern.

Tell Amazon to get out of the surveillance business

ICE has historically relied on biometrics — primarily fingerprints — as a way of expanding its immigration enforcement capabilities. Through government programs like “Secure Communities,” the fingerprints of people arrested by local police are matched against ICE databases. In cases where ICE claims someone is undocumented, the agency can issue a request that someone be held for 48 hours so that they can be transferred to ICE custody. In 2017, ICE issued over 142,000 such detainer requests.

The use of biometrics in this way has fueled the current mass detention and deportation efforts, which terrorize immigrant communities throughout the country, resulting in countless errors, deportations without due process, and increased racial profiling. Worse still, ICE is an agency that often acts with impunity, operating with a record $7.1 billion budget with inadequate oversight and accountability.

If ICE is seeking to augment its existing biometric matching with facial recognition, the impact on immigrant communities could be even more striking. Using just a photo, it could make it easier to track and apprehend people as they attend a protest or walk their kids to school. And given the high rates of inaccuracy of facial recognition on communities of color the inevitable mistakes could be disastrous.

In July, we released a test showing that Amazon Rekognition falsely matched 28 members of Congress with mugshot photos, with members of color incorrectly matched at a disproportionately higher rate. After this, a bipartisan group of 25 House members, including civil rights legend John Lewis (D-Ga.), sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding a meeting and writing, “[W]e are alarmed about the deleterious impact this tool — if left unchecked — will have on communities of color; immigrants; protestors peaceably assembling and others petitioning the Government for a redress of grievances; or any other marginalized group.”

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In a recent statement to The Washington Post, ICE said that it had used face recognition in the past to assist in “criminal investigations.” This is disturbing given that Congress has never authorized this use, ICE has not publicly disclosed any policies or procedures, and the inherent civil liberties risks of the technology.

Amazon shouldn’t be arming an out-of-control agency with additional means for targeting immigrants. And if the government is planning to use this powerful surveillance tool, the public has a right to know how.

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Dr. Timothy Leary

Simple solution, don't buy anything from Amazon. If you buy something from a local store you can physically examine the merchandise before purchase. You can't do that over the internet. Remember a bird in the hand is still worth two in the bush. When Amazon goes out of business like Blockbuster did we can dance on its grave.

SgrA*

"Worse still, ICE is an agency that often acts with impunity, operating with a record $7.1 billion budget with inadequate oversight and accountability."

As a person who worked diligently on bringing democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq from 2006-13, it's clear to me that bureaucracies often don't follow through on the merits involved. Instead of winning the peace in those countries, we further divided them for our political purposes. ICE is doing the same thing regarding immigration, due to political demagoguery. They are being abused by Trump leadership to be the storm-troopers of neo-nationalists. An odd aspect of this occurred with the discussion when Trump idealized the Norwegians, then he whined why don't more people immigrate from there instead of "shithole" countries. And Norway is a Socialist Democratic country, along with Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and others -- with an enlightened populace that has a balanced understanding of things. But Trump contradicts this idea, when he compares mid-term democratic candidates with social democracy, akin to Venezuela. More lies, and we need to call-out the Republicans on this stupidity.

Anonymous

Well said sir!

Anonymous

Well said sir!

Anonymous

We can call out both parties on illegal aliens and the migrants that are coming to America. Both parties suck at doing their jobs they only worry about getting elected again. I am happy that Amazon is selling face recognition so that we can stop people from entering America illegally. All elected officials are worthless they should be working on getting our country back to being the best and let others countries take care of themselves. I am older Americans citizens female and a person of color.

AnonymouS

" Both parties suck at doing their jobs"

Maybe. But it was that knucklehead Cruz who in 2013 shut down the government putting in jeopardy overseas operations, peoples lives on the ground, and my belief in the American system of dealing with war and peace time contractual obligations. Cruz's Republican shut-down was a feeble attempt to eliminate health care insurance for Americans. You may not want to address how to handle the circumstances where your government becomes cowardly, I certainly didn't; I left the overseas operations I was working on before our government was funded again -- there's no dealing with cretins. Conservatives are deplorables!

Member ACLU

Thank you for caring. Well said.

Anonymous

Yes both parties cannot gets together to work on our country policies. We have to many American criminals why do we need to take any illegal aliens which probably have a lot of criminals coming to America. America is be coming a shithole country with all the illegal aliens coming to America. Why not give all money that we as taxpayers spend it on veterans who are disabled and who are homeless

Anonymous

Both parties should behave like adults and stop acting like little kids. Get it together for the greater of America. Help the older Americans citizens and children.

Anotnymous

Get the criminals out of country...Good for Amazon... Great for US...

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