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How Amazon and other tech giants became crucial enablers of Trump’s immigration and law enforcement agenda


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: How Amazon and other tech giants became crucial enablers of Trump’s immigration and law enforcement agenda

  • Program meant to fight terrorism and narcotrafficking is being used to target the undocumented community

  • Advocates say Brooklyn DA’s office is prosecuting transgender people in self-defense cases

  • ICE arrested a man after he testified against his daughter’s attacker

  • Victims of police abuse in Chicago are often themselves arrested

  • NYC transit president calls for arresting homeless people on subways

  • Five-term North Carolina sheriff faces opposition from the left

In the Spotlight

How Amazon and other tech giants became crucial enablers of Trump’s immigration and law enforcement agenda

Amazon, Palantir, and other large tech companies are making billions of dollars by selling services that help President Trump’s deportation agenda, a new report says. A group of nonprofits, including Mijente and the Immigrant Defense Project, concludes in the report, Who’s Behind ICE?, that these companies are equipping ICE with technology that helps it track, detain, and deport immigrants. Far from the tangential aid the companies claim to provide, they in fact are “playing an increasingly central role in facilitating the expansion and acceleration of arrests, detentions and deportations,” the report states. They do so by enabling the government to rely increasingly on tech innovations such as big-data analysis and cloud-based storage; if unchecked, tech companies will continue to develop new systems that ICE uses to target immigrants and that police use to target people of color in their communities. “It is deeply troubling that at the same time these corporations characterize these services and products as business ventures that are free from bias, racism, profiling, and abuse, while being highly profitable.” [Megan Cerullo / Daily News]

The nonprofits argue that “dismantling the lucrative relationship between tech and ICE” is essential to pushing back against the White House’s stance on immigration, claiming that ICE “cannot develop or operate its massive information systems without the technology industry and its products and services.” Amazon, no longer simply a mega online retailer, has become a broker of cloud storage space; it now has the most federal authorizations to maintain government data, and hosts the data-sharing systems that the Department of Homeland Security relies on to “detect and prevent illegal entry.” In that role, Amazon stores biometric data for 230 million unique identities—including fingerprint and face records. McKinsey recently sponsored a “boot camp” where Amazon discussed Rekognition, its facial recognition system. One of the customers interested in learning more about those services? ICE. [Megan Cerullo / Daily News]

Over 450 Amazon employees signed a letter, urging CEO Jeff Bezos and other executives to halt their practice of selling Rekognition to police departments around the country. The letter also demanded employee oversight for ethical decision-making. In a follow-up article, an anonymous employee wrote that “Amazon is designing, marketing, and selling a system for dangerous mass surveillance right now.” The employee warned that law enforcement “has already started using facial recognition with virtually no public oversight or debate or restrictions on use from Amazon.” In Orlando, authorities are testing Rekognition with live video feeds from surveillance cameras around the city. In Oregon, a sheriff’s department is using Rekognition to let officers in the field compare photos to a database of mugshots. Teresa Carlson, vice president of the worldwide public sector of Amazon Web Services, said in July that Amazon “unwaveringly” supports law enforcement, defense, and intelligence customers, even if the company doesn’t “know everything they’re actually utilizing the tool for.” On stage in October, Bezos acknowledged that his company’s products might be exploited, but instead of preventing those abuses, Bezos suggested that Amazon wait for society’s “immune response.” [Anonymous Amazon employee / Medium]

A recent test of Rekognition ran pictures of every member of Congress against a collection of mugshots. Far from being perfect, there were 28 false matches, and the incorrect results were disproportionately higher for people of color. “The product we’re selling is a flawed technology that reinforces existing bias. Studies have shown that facial recognition is more likely to misidentify people with darker skin,” the employee writes. “But even if these inaccuracies were fixed, it would still be irresponsible, dangerous, and unethical to allow government use of this software. The existing biases that produced this bias exist within wider society and our justice system. The use of facial recognition will only reproduce and amplify existing systems of oppression.” The employee concludes: “For Amazon to say that we require our Rekognition customers to follow the law is no guarantee of civil liberties at all—it’s a way to avoid taking responsibility for the negative uses of this technology.” [Anonymous Amazon employee / Medium]

“If you think about the top 40 or top 80 companies you know, almost all of them are thinking about facial recognition, or they’ve all at least looked into it,” said Peter Trepp, CEO of the facial-recognition software company FaceFirst. Trepp said his company has also been marketing to sports stadiums and teams. On Wednesday, New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres, who represents the Bronx, introduced a bill that would require businesses to tell the public if they are using facial recognition, how long they are storing it, and who they are sharing it with. Torres was inspired to push the bill after he learned that Madison Square Garden uses facial recognition. [Nick Tabor / New York] No New York City law requires companies to disclose how they use facial-recognition technology. The NYPD, which is fighting a public-records request regarding its use of the tool, feeds images into a mug-shot database and gets back hundreds of possible matches, from which a group of detectives tries to find a match. [Zolan Kanno-Youngs / Wall Street Journal]

Several states, including Alaska, Connecticut, Montana, New Hampshire, and Washington, have considered similar privacy laws recently, but all except Washington have failed in those efforts. Illinois and Texas also have long-standing privacy laws in place. Much of the opposition comes from high-powered tech companies and trade groups, including Facebook and Google which “have come out in full force.” Facebook has been “especially aggressive, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity.” [Nick Tabor / New York]

This news all comes as the Transportation Security Administration “released a sweeping plan last week to turn U.S. airports into the first large-scale, comprehensive application of face surveillance technology on the American public,” according to the ACLU. This “would all culminate in the agency seeking to extend ‘biometric solutions to the general flying public.’” [Jay Stanley / ACLU] And to round out this week of dystopia, “RealNetworks released its Best Practices guide for using facial recognition technology to support safer K-12 campuses.” [Stephen Mayhew / RealNetworks]

Stories From The Appeal

Jorge Arroyo and his family in Texas this month. [Debbie Nathan/The Appeal]

Program Meant to Fight Terrorism and Narcotrafficking Is Being Used to Target the Undocumented Community. Opposition to Operation Stonegarden, however, is spreading; one Arizona county just rejected over $1 million of its funds. [Debbie Nathan]

Advocates Say Brooklyn DA’s Office Is Prosecuting Transgender People in Self-Defense Cases. Decision-making by prosecutors in such cases, says one attorney, ‘compounds, entrenches, and ultimately authorizes the initial act of violence by prosecuting the victim.’ [Aviva Stahl]

Stories From Around the Country

ICE arrested a man after he testified against his daughter’s attacker: “An undocumented Anaheim man picked up by immigration officials after appearing in court to seek a restraining order against his daughter’s molester could be deported Tuesday,” reports a news network in California. ICE arrested Marcos Villanueva while he was at breakfast with his family, just two days after he testified in court to help his 12-year-old daughter get a restraining order against her alleged attacker. She had accused her 51-year-old uncle of molesting her, and the family believes the uncle tipped off ICE in retaliation. The 40-year-old father and professional house painter had no criminal record, and he is scheduled to be deported at 5 a.m. Tuesday to Honduras, a country he fled 13 years ago in fear for his life, after witnessing a friend’s murder. “This is probably the most unjust and unfair case I’ve ever seen,” his attorney said. [Kristina Bravo, Elizabeth Espinosa, and Courtney Friel / KTLA]

Victims of police abuse in Chicago are often themselves arrested: The conviction this month of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke for killing teenager Laquan McDonald  is exceedingly rare. “Much more often, it’s the person on the other end of police force that ends up arrested, charged and convicted,” according to the Chicago Reporter. An investigation “has found a troubling pattern of Chicago police officers charging people they’ve assaulted with aggravated battery to a police officer, aggravated assault of a police officer, or resisting arrest. Defense attorneys call these ‘cover charges’ and say it’s a way to cover up bad behavior or justify their excessive use of force.” The investigation found that two out of every three times a Chicago officer reported using force since 2004, they arrested the subject on one of these charges. Cover charges comprise nearly one in five of the 1,112 police misconduct lawsuits paid out by the city between 2011 and 2017, costing taxpayers over $33 million. In 1972, a panel on Chicago police abuse “noted that three charges—disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and battery to a police officer—were so commonly used as cover for misconduct that lawyers referred to them as the ‘holy trinity.’” Nearly half a century later, little has changed. [Jonah Newman / Chicago Reporter]

NYC transit president calls for arresting homeless people on subways: New York City Transit President Andy Byford announced a crackdown on “subway vagrants” Monday, “directing station managers to remove homeless people who take up multiple seats and make a mess,” according to the New York Post. Byford told staffers to call the police if the “vagrants are engaging in ‘antisocial’ behavior.” This policy comes just in time for cold temperatures to drive homeless people off the streets and onto the subways. “They are human beings,” said Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Charles Moerdler. “They are individuals with individual problems. To deal with them all as one is just wrong, and to deal with them uncaringly and recklessly, in my view, is a disaster.” Giselle Routhier, policy director at Coalition for the Homeless, said, “The approach should be relationship-building and offering people services.” Riders told the Post that they don’t think the MTA should call the cops on homeless people for lying down or carrying all their possessions around. [Danielle Furfaro / New York Post]

Five-term North Carolina sheriff faces opposition from the left: Republican Donnie Harrison, the five-term sheriff of Wake County, is facing a Democratic challenger, Gerald M. Baker. Harrison and Baker agree that unnecessarily high bonds are keeping too many people in jail. Both support body-worn cameras. But Baker has been questioning the sheriff’s management skills and integrity. He “criticized Harrison for not firing a deputy who was charged with assault after unleashing his K-9 on an unarmed man in April,” according to the News & Observer. He also criticizes Harrison’s cooperation with ICE, supports treatment––not jail––for those with mental health or substance use disorders, and more accountability for officers who abuse their power. [Thomasi McDonald / News & Observer]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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