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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Anonymous

Excellent reply! I am still amazed how this illegal scapegoating strategy saving the faces of the big banks (the real culprits) worked on so many gullible folks. Illegals are not criminals but hardworking folks most of them, pay taxes on their income and pay the same sales taxes and property taxes as others yet they get no aid from the government, E verify is hard to cheat nor they get money back for over taxation. If you still believe the contrary then you are hopelessly imbecile! Many of these gullible brainless clowns should realize that trillions of dollars are wasted on needless wars where the common people gain nothing but only lose and lose a lot. Also the US health industry siphons away immense amount of money from the people and away from the infrastructure! The US is not becoming a shithole country because of illegal immigration but because of deep corruption and plain corporate greed!

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...

Anonymous

So what would be great is a guide for how to remove yourself from being enmeshed in the Amazon world, as I am. From Prime, to TV, to groceries, a credit card, Audible, Kindle. If they sell ReKKKognition to ICE, I need to stop sending Amazon money.

Anonymous

My thoughts exactly. ACLU please continue to follow up on this and all of the great work you are doing.

Anonymous

Vote with your dollars and just stop spending money with them. Cancel your subscriptions to all of these services. Use your local library for e-books and audiobooks. I let my Prime subscription expire right after the election in 2016 and I've never looked back. I save a ton of money by not having the ability to make frequent Prime impulse buys, so it's a win-win.

Anonymous

Please support your local small business. They are the backbone of America. I for one only shop local.

Member ACLU

I agree. I’ve used Amazon for many years. It would be a “shopping pain”, but not worth funding those who aid growing xenophobia, I do not believe in denying asylum and aid to those seeking a better life. We’d all want that for our families.
They are not criminals. They are human beings in need. We need a better system.

Anonymous

They are only criminals once they enter the country illegally. There is no excuse for crossing the border illegally. Enter the country legally, and I believe 98% of Americans will welcome them with open arms. I know I would. But I cannot support the idea that anyone should be able to break the law with impunity and have all variety of aid provided by the government. I am a law abiding citizen, and I do not get remotely the level of help from my own government. I was born here, and I am left out to dry, yet these individuals who CHOOSE to cross the border illegally have so many Americans wanting to give them asylum and federal aid. It makes no sense.

I stopped using amazon when the more recent reports of their treatment of warehouse employees around the world surfaced a handful of months ago- some of it was legal, some wasn't, all of it was dubious at BEST. Now? They're selling defective facial recognition software to an intrusive government agency trying to take away the freedom of americans to exist in public spaces without having to constantly worry about getting falsely tagged or targetted by biased software that can probably be made to function even MORE poorly if the local officers aren't well trained with it. Come on, amazon, come on, courts, COME ON, CITIZENS!!! It's time to realize that our right to privacy has shrunk far too much for far too long, and that corporations need to be held accountable when they sell actual garbage. Real criminals can evade the system just by getting a lot of face tattoos or wearing juggalo/clown makeup anyway! The only people getting screwed here are law-abiding citizens who don't wear disguises, ESPECIALLY minorities. You see these kinds of glitches a lot in the tech industry, you can google "racist hand drier" for an example. Whether through lack of foresight or some quirk of software, minorities are routinely subject to recognition glitches more than, for example, white people. Not to mention that this software SCREWS OVER WHITE PEOPLE TOO!!! Sorry that this is a rant, but I'm flabbergasted at the blasé carelessness and flippancy of this corporation and this government.

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