Details emerge of Amazon's facial recognition deal with US immigration service

Amazon claims its initial pitch was part of a wider boot camp attended by a range of companies

Amazon met up with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this year to discuss the intricacies of its Rekognition video tagging and analysis technology, it has emerged, suggesting the agency could use the rather controversial technology to identify people crossing its borders.

There's already been some talk that the US government may start using video surveillance and identification tech to uncover immigrants that may be trying to hide from authorities. However, documents now freely available to view on Document Cloud, following a Freedom of information request by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), suggest talks are a little further along than some initially realised.

The list of things the two organisations discussed included an innovation workshop that would educate the Homeland Security Investigations unit to help them overcome its list of "challenges", how the organisation could use predictive analytics core capabilities and deployment scenarios, Elasticsearch as a managed service and other matters related to the services Amazon could provide the department with.

It also specified Rekognition video tagging/analysis, scalability and custom object libraries, suggesting this key technology is on ICE's roadmap. When questioned further about the relationship between the two companies, ICE said it was unable to give much more information.

The revelation comes at a time when technology companies are under pressure to distance themselves from the US' controversial border policies, with a number of firms being openly critical of the current administration. Microsoft, Apple, Reddit, Uber, eBay, Box and Cisco all issued statements after it was revealed agents had been forcibly removing children from their parents at the US/Mexico border.

"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," an ICE spokesperson said when questioned by POGO further about the documents.

Amazon said that it has liaised with ICE at a number of boot camps, alongside other organisations also pitching their technologies to the government. IT only discussed Rekognition as part of other projects and said the communication was merely a follow-up on the presentation.

"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]," the company said in an email to The Daily Beast.

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