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- Amazon executives appeared in front of New York City’s council to answer questions about its headquarters that are heading to Long Island City in New York’s borough of Queens.
- In response to a question about Amazon’s relationship with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, VP Brian Huseman said: “We believe the government should have the best available technology.”
- Amazon has faced sharp criticism from the public – and employees as well – for selling its facial recognition software to law enforcement, including to immigration officials who could use it to further their deportation program.
Amazon faced tough questions Wednesday about the extent of the company’s business providing technology such as facial recognition to federal immigration officials.
Executives from the tech giant appeared Wednesday in front of New York City council members to answer local lawmakers’ questions about Amazon’s newest headquarters, dubbed HQ2, that’s coming to the city’s Queens neighborhood. But Amazon representatives faced a slew of questions about not only about HQ2’s impact on Long Island City, but also on Amazon’s relationship with law enforcement agencies.
Corey Johnson, the city council speaker, asked specifically about Amazon’s dealings with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We believe the government should have the best available technology,” said Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy.
Huseman’s answer was met with a chorus of boo’s from protestors, who filled the council meeting and often interrupted proceedings with chants and feedback.
Amazon’s facial recognition software, called Rekognition, has been met with much criticism since the company’s partnership with police and government agencies was revealed. The backlash grew after it was reported Amazon had met with ICE, raising further concerns the AI face-scanning ID software would be used to aid the immigration agency’s deportation and tracking program.
Amazon declined to comment on any further on Huseman’s comments on Tuesday, but did say that it “wasn’t the intent” of Huseman’s response to confirm ICE’s use of Amazon software.
“We have not been able to replicate the findings”
Criticism has been leveled from employees inside Amazon as well. Hundreds of Amazon employees have called on CEO Jeff Bezos to halt the sale of facial recognition to government agencies. Employees geared up to confront Bezos at a company meeting in November, but Amazon’s cloud CEO, Andy Jassy, reportedly dismissed the feedback as an unpopular opinion only shared by a small group in the company.
Huseman was also pressed Wednesday about an experiment from the American Civil Liberties Union that found that Amazon’s Rekognition software incorrectly ID’d members of Congress as people who had been arrested in the past.
“We have not been able to replicate the findings of that,” Huseman said.
“I think that will come as cold comfort to people who are picked up as a result of your facial recognition,” NYC council member Brad Lander responded.