Amazon Has Reportedly Pitched ICE to Buy its Face Recognition Tech
A report from The Daily Beast published Wednesday found that officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement—better known as ICE—met with executives from Amazon over the summer. During that meeting, according to documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) show, the corporate giant pitched the government agency on its facial recognition technology that scans faces in a video feed and can identify them in real time.
Among the concerns with ICE getting its hands on that kind of technology, though countless, include the agency using it to target immigrants by monitoring “sensitive locations” like medical facilities and places of worship—something that goes against official policy but has been practiced under the current administration.
The news of Amazon shopping its Rekognition technology comes as several studies, including one from the ACLU, found that the real-time face identification tech has a propensity for misidentifying people and particularly those of color.
Rekognition is a service that Amazon includes as part of its suite of add ons for AWS customers. It describes the technology as something that allows its customers to add powerful visual analysis to their applications by letting them “extract motion-based context” via analysis of both stored content and live stream videos.
“If they have this technology, I can see it being used in any way they think will help them increase the numbers of detentions, apprehensions, and removals,” Alonzo Peña, a former deputy director of ICE, told The Daily Beast. “[Possible abuse] should be an area of concern, given this new technology—there’s potential for its use to be very widespread.”
In an anonymous blog post last week on the website Medium, an Amazon employee cited those poor performing studies of the Rekognition technology and said, flat out, that the company should not be looking to sell its technology to police.
“Selling this system runs counter to Amazon’s stated values. We tout ourselves as a customer-centric company, and Bezos has directly spoken out against unethical government policies that target immigrants, like the Muslim ban,” the employee wrote. “We cannot profit from a subset of powerful customers at the expense of our communities; we cannot avert our eyes from the human cost of our business. The product we’re selling is a flawed technology that reinforces existing bias.”
ICE confirmed to The Daily Beast that it has no contract with Amazon regarding its facial recognition technology at this time. And in a statement to the publication after the report was posted, Amazon said its conversation with the agency came after a technology boot camp sponsored by the McKinsey company. “As we usually do, we followed up with customers who were interested in learning more about how to use our services,” they said.
What We’re Reading
- Despite tumultuous quarter, Tesla posted a record $311 million in profit—its first profitable quarter in two years, and just its third ever. (The Verge)
- Driverless hover-taxis are set to take off in Singapore. (The Star Online)
- The Amazon HQ2 search has local real estate investors placing big bets on property in finalist cities. (The Wall Street Journal)