Amazon pitched facial recognition tech to ICE

Amazon pitched facial recognition tech to ICE
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Amazon over the summer met with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to pitch them on buying the tech giant's controversial facial recognition technology, according to a new report from The Daily Beast.

An Amazon representative sent an email to ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) office in June reviewing a meeting that had taken place between the two bodies in California, according to documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO)

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During the meeting, Amazon pressed ICE to buy their "Rekognition" facial recognition software, which has come under scrutiny for disproportionately identifying people of color as targets, according to the emails. 

An ICE spokesperson told POGO that the meeting was "fairly standard," the Daily Beast reported.

"We can’t provide data on how often we’ve met with a particular vendor to discuss emerging technology they’re developing, but industry outreach and building relationships with potential contractors is fairly standard within government acquisition,” the ICE spokesperson wrote in an email to POGO, according to the news website.

An Amazon spokesperson told The Hill that the company was following up with ICE as it does with other parties interested in its technologies.

“We participated with a number of other technology companies in technology “boot camps” sponsored by McKinsey Company, where a number of technologies were discussed, including Rekognition,” the spokesperson wrote in a statement. “As we usually do, we followed up with customers who were interested in learning more about how to use our services.”

POGO did not immediately respond to The Hill's requests for comment.

The email from Amazon mentions the technology could address "a big HSI problem" but does not specify what that problem is. 

"Rekognition," which has been adopted by some police departments across the country, can scan crowds of people in real time against criminal databases.

The software has faced accusations of inaccuracy after it identified 28 members of Congress as criminals during a trial test by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Almost 50 percent of those targeted by the software in the test were people of color. 

Other trials have found that the software disproportionately identifies people with darker skin as criminals.  

A former ICE official raised concerns with POGO that the use of facial recognition technology by ICE could exacerbate the struggles faced by migrants, the Daily Beast reported.

Alonzo Peña, who served as deputy director of ICE during the George W. Bush administration, told POGO that undocumented immigrants could be deterred from seeking life-sustaining services if they knew immigration officials were using facial recognition software.

Although ICE is technically barred from arresting undocumented people in hospitals and other sensitive locations, Peña says there have been instances of immigration enforcement breaking those rules in the Trump administration.

“In the past, certain areas like schools, churches, and courts were off-limits — there were policies in place that would prevent agents from going into those areas, but under this administration a lot of those policies are no longer enforced,” Peña said.

He said the use of "Rekognition" could increase the likelihood that ICE agents detain migrants in locations such as schools, hospitals and places of worship. 

ICE already makes use of some facial recognition software, but that technology does not have the ability to scan live crowds of people for possible undocumented migrants. 

Updated Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.