ACLU Calls for Moratorium on Law and Immigration Enforcement Use of Facial Recognition

Demands DHS Disclose If and How It Plans to Use the Surveillance Technology Following Reports of Amazon Courting ICE to Buy ‘Rekognition’

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2018 — The American Civil Liberties Union today called again for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology for immigration enforcement and law enforcement purposes until Congress and the public debate what, if any, uses of this technology should be permitted. The organization also filed a Freedom of Information Act request demanding the Department of Homeland Security disclose to the public if and how the agency is using or plans to use the technology.

These latest actions come on the heels of a new report revealing that Amazon has been pushing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to purchase the company’s facial recognition technology, Rekognition.

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ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani issued the following statement:

“ICE should not be using face recognition for immigration or law enforcement. 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.

“Amazon and ICE cannot continue to bury their heads in the sand and treat this as ‘business as usual’. Both have deliberately ignored warnings from members of Congress, the public, employees, and civil rights advocates regarding the dangers of this technology. In ICE’s case, we have every reason to be worried that this technology will be used to support the agency’s ongoing efforts aimed at terrorizing immigrant communities.”

The ACLU’s FOIA request seeks records relating to the purchase of face recognition technology and related software and services, as well as records related to meetings with vendors, companies or other private entities marketing face recognition to DHS for immigration, intelligence, or law enforcement use.

“DHS should immediately disclose to the public whether and how the agency is deploying or planning to deploy this technology,” added Guliani. “History tells us that surveillance technology is often wrongly used to target immigrants, communities of color, and political protesters, and there is a danger that this time will be no different.”

On May 22, the ACLU released emails and other documents revealing how the company has been actively marketing its dangerous face surveillance to law enforcement and helping them deploy it. On July 26, the ACLU of Northern California also released results of a test showing that Rekognition falsely matched 28 current members of Congress with images in an arrest photo database. Congressional members of color were disproportionately identified incorrectly, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The release of the documents and test results spurred a nationwide movement in protest of government use of face surveillance and resulted in over 150,000 petition signatures, a coalition letter signed by nearly 70 organizations representing communities nationwide, and a letter from the Amazon’s shareholders and employees demanding the company stop providing face surveillance technology to governments. Members of Congress also wrote to Amazon with civil rights concerns and questions about the sale of Rekognition to law enforcement.

The FOIA request can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/dhs-facial-recognition-foia