ACLU seeks disclosure of facial recognition plans from Homeland Security

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has demanded that the U.S. Department of Homeland Services disclose its use or plans to use facial recognition software with a Freedom of Information Act request, and is doubling down on its calls for a moratorium on the technology in immigration enforcement and law enforcement applications.

The request was prompted by a recent report in the Daily Beast that Amazon has been pitching Rekognition to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to an ACLU blog post. Documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight show that in a June meeting at the offices of McKinsey and Company, which has provided management services to ICE, Amazon discussed the capability of Rekognition to identify individuals in real-time from video feeds.

Amazon has been involved in an ongoing dispute with the ACLU over the accuracy and appropriateness of its technology for law enforcement. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos defended working with government agencies, specifically the DoD, at an event earlier in October.

“ICE should not be using face recognition for immigration or law enforcement,” says ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani. “Congress has never authorized such use and should immediately take steps to ensure that federal agencies put the brakes on the use of face recognition for immigration or law enforcement purposes.”

“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,” an Amazon Web Services spokesperson said in a statement reported by CNET. “As we usually do, we followed up with customers who were interested in learning more about how to use our services (Immigration and Customs Enforcement was one of those organizations where there was follow-up discussion).”

“We can’t provide data on how often we’ve met with a particular vendor to discuss emerging technology they’re developing or speculate on future contracting actions,” ICE spokesperson Matthew Bourke commented, according to CNET, “but industry outreach and building relationships with potential contractors is fairly standard within government acquisition.”

Bourke says that ICE Homeland Security Investigations has used facial recognition in criminal investigations related to fraud, identity theft, and child exploitation, but does not currently have a contract with Amazon.

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