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Amazon pitched its facial recognition system to ICE earlier this year as the Trump administration was observing its family-separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo: Getty)

Over Employees' Protests, Amazon Aggressively Pitched Facial Recognition Software to ICE At Height of Child Detention Crisis

"If being 'progressive' (raising wages, being pro-LGBTQ) makes them money, they'll do it; if working with ICE makes them money, they'll do it. They have zero actual morals or beliefs outside of profit."

Julia Conley

Over the objections of its employees, Amazon pitched its facial recognition software to the Department of Homeland Security at the height of the family separation crisis earlier this year and offered the system as one that could help agents identify and detain undocumented immigrants.

According to emails obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and published by the Daily Beast, Amazon officials told the agency that its Rekognition software could be used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers during immigration investigations.

"Being implicated in the deeply immoral way the Trump administration has treated immigrants and those seeking refuge in the U.S. is a strange choice for a company that wants to simultaneously paint itself as progressive." —Amazon employee"We are ready and willing to support the vital Homeland Security Investigations mission," wrote an Amazon sales official on June 15.

Several Amazon employees spoke to Vanity Fair on Wednesday about the revelation, expressing outrage over their company's support for the Trump administration's anti-immigrant agenda.

"Being implicated in the deeply immoral way the Trump administration has treated immigrants and those seeking refuge in the U.S. is a strange choice for a company that wants to simultaneously paint itself as progressive," one worker said.

"They're playing both sides of the immigration debate," another added. "If being 'progressive' (raising wages, being pro-LGBTQ) makes them money, they'll do it; if working with ICE makes them money, they'll do it. They have zero actual morals or beliefs outside of profit."

The Rekognition technology has already been used by police departments in Oregon and Florida, despite concerns over its accuracy, especially when identifying people of color. In July, the software incorrectly identified 28 members of Congress as people who were being investigated for crimes, according to a test run by the ACLU.

Amazon's discussions with ICE came a week before employees of the company signed a letter imploring CEO Jeff Bezos to reject any immigration-related contracts for the use of Rekognition.

"We refuse to build the platform that powers ICE, and we refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights," wrote the workers.

"It is disturbing that Amazon continues to actively ignore warnings from members of Congress, civil rights groups, the public, and its own shareholders and employees about the dangers of its technology,” Jacob Snow, technology and civil liberties attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, told the Daily Beast.

Despite its employees' warnings, Amazon spent $3.63 million between July 1 and September 30 on lobbying the government regarding several issues including facial recognition software. The company also provides cloud computing services for the CIA and is in the running to win a similar $10 billion contract with the Pentagon.

On Tuesday, the ACLU called on Congress to pass legislation to put serious constraints on the use of facial recognition technology by law and immigration enforcement agencies.


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