Amazon met with ICE officials to sell its facial recognition system

(by Drew Harwell, The Washington Post) – Amazon pitched its facial-recognition system in the summer to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials as a way for the agency to target or identify illegal immigrants….

At the June meeting in Silicon Valley, revealed in emails as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by the advocacy group Project on Government Oversight, officials from ICE and Amazon Web Services talked about implementing the tech giant’s Rekognition face-scanning platform to assist with Homeland Security investigations.

An Amazon Web Service official specializing in federal sales contracts, 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 — a type of technology that immigration officials have voiced interest in for its potential enforcement use on the southern border.

“We are ready and willing to support the vital [Homeland Security Investigations] mission,” the Amazon official wrote.

Officials from Amazon and ICE did not immediately respond to requests for comment. [NOTE: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos personally owns The Washington Post.]

Amazon has marketed the technology to police departments as a way to target and identify criminals, and it is [used by departments] in Oregon and Florida. Civil rights and privacy advocates worry that the unproven technology’s expansion could have a chilling effect on public protests or embolden government and police efforts to supercharge mass surveillance.

…Amazon [employees oppose] work that could be used for government surveillance [against illegal immigrants]. Hundreds of anonymous Amazon workers wrote CEO Jeff Bezos a letter roughly one week after the meeting, saying, “We refuse to build the platform that powers ICE, and we refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights.”

…Microsoft, a tech giant building facial-recognition tools that compete with Amazon’s, came under fire [from employees] in the summer for the potential work it could do as part of a major ICE contract.

Google has also faced internal resistance over its contributions to Project Maven, a Defense Department initiative that would allow AI to identify objects in battlefield drone video. [No word on whether Google employees oppose its Dragonfly search engine, which was developed secretly for China. It links users’ searches to their personal phone numbers, making it easier for the Communist  government to track every citizen. Google’s Dragonfly also blocks any content Communist rulers don’t want their citizens to see.]

Amazon has a number of government contracts and is believed to be the lead contender to win the Pentagon’s $10 billion cloud-computing contract, known as JEDI (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure). The company also operates a private cloud service for top-secret intelligence used by the CIA. …

Bezos has donated money to fund college scholarships for “undocumented” students, but he has also publicly supported the tech industry’s contributions to national-security efforts and other government work.

“If big tech companies are going to turn their backs on the Department of Defense, we are in big trouble,” Bezos said at a Wired magazine event last week. Asked about illegal immigration, he added, “I’d let them in if it were me. I like ’em, I want all of them in. But this is a great country and it does need to be defended.”

ICE [wants to use] facial recognition and other artificial-intelligence software as potential…ways to [stop] illegal immigration. (ICE officials told tech-industry contractors last year they wanted an “extreme vetting” system that could automatically mine the social media of foreign visitors to assess whether they might [have criminal records or be linked to terrorists/terrorism].)

Amazon unveiled Rekognition in 2016 as a way to analyze images and detect faces on a massive scale. Its first marketing materials focused on the softer side of the technology, [making it sound fun and innocent], including its ability to look at a dog’s face and recognize it’s a golden retriever. …

From washingtonpost .com. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The Washington Post.


1. The first paragraph of a news article should answer the questions who, what, where and when. List the who, what, where and when of this news item. (NOTE: The remainder of a news article provides details on the why and/or how.)

2. a) In addition to the Department of Homeland Security, to what other government agencies has Amazon sold their software?
b) For what purpose do they use the software?

3. Why do civil rights and privacy rights activists oppose the use of Amazon’s facial recognition software by police?

4. Why do Amazon employees oppose the sale of Rekognition to ICE?

5. Do you think ICE should have the ability to identify illegal immigrants on the southern border, or do you think it violates their human rights? Explain your answer.

6. Mr. Bezos defends selling his technology to the government, saying, “If big tech companies are going to turn their backs on the Department of Defense, we are in big trouble.” He also has donated over $30 million to pay for undocumented students’ college tuition, and said if it was up to him, he would let every immigrant in. Amazon owns many other companies and businesses. It knows more about you than many of your own family or friends do.
a) Do you think Mr. Bezos’ motives are truly altruistic, or does he want the lucrative government contract?
b) How comfortable are you that Amazon and Jeff Bezos will be able to track and ID every person in the U.S. should the use of his software become widespread?

7. There are 2 different issues here: using facial recognition software on the border to monitor who is coming into the country, and using it to be able to identify any citizen walking down the street.  Do you oppose one, both or neither? Explain your answer.



Facial recognition software works by matching real time images to a previous photograph of a person.

Each face has approximately 80 unique nodal points across the eyes, nose, cheeky and mouth which distinguish one person from another.

A digital video camera measures the distance between various points on the human face, such as the width of the nose, depth of the eye sockets, distance between the eyes and shape of the jawline.

This produces a unique numerical code that can then be linked with a matching code gleaned from a previous photograph.

A facial recognition system used by officials in China connects to millions of CCTV cameras and uses artificial intelligence to pick out targets.

Experts believe that facial recognition technology will soon overtake fingerprint technology as the most effective way to identify people. (from an article at the UK Daily Mail.)

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