Amazon Reportedly Offered ICE Its Facial-Recognition System

In June, Amazon pitched its facial-recognition technology to ICE officials as a way for the agency to target immigrants, a move that has angered many, including Amazon workers and shoved the tech giant further into a growing debate over the industry’s work with governments to track, monitor and censor people.

Amazon’s efforts to sell ICE on their facial recognition system was revealed in emails as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by the advocacy group Project on Government Oversight; the emails were first published in the Daily Beast. They show that ICE and Amazon talked about implementing the Rekognition face-scanning platform.

An Amazon official who specializes in federal sales contracts, and whose name was redacted in the emails, wrote that the conversation involved “predictive analytics” and “Rekognition Video tagging/analysis” that could possibly allow ICE to identify people’s faces from afar. “We are ready and willing to support the vital (Homeland Security Investigations) mission,” the Amazon official wrote. ICE said in a statement that its homeland security investigations unit has used facial-recognition technology.

Amazon has marketed the technology to police departments as a way to target and identify people, and it is deployed in Oregon and Florida. Civil rights and privacy advocates worry that the technology could have a chilling effect on public protests or embolden government and police efforts to supercharge mass surveillance.

Microsoft has been building facial-recognition tools that compete with Amazon’s and came under fire this summer for the potential work it could do as part of a major ICE contract. Workers demanded the company cease. Google has also faced internal resistance over its contributions to Project Maven, a Defense Department initiative that would allow artificial intelligence to identify objects on the battlefield.

Amazon has many government contracts and is the lead contender for the Pentagon’s $10 billion cloud-computing contract, known as JEDI, for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. The company also operates a private cloud service for the CIA. The agency’s deputy director for science and technology characterized the Amazon-CIA connection last month outside Washington as a “closer partnership than I’ve ever seen in my career.”

Amazon spent $3.63 million between July 1 and September 30 to lobby the U.S. government on a range of issues, including “facial recognition technology,” according to federal ethics documents.


Photo: “Using tech to flip facial recognition in video stories from Iran, at SXSWi” bySheila Scarborough is licensed underCC BY 2.0