More than 40 human rights groups have called on Amazon Web Services (AWS) to drop a contract with the US Department of Homeland Security.

AWS is set to host the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) biometric database, a vast collection of fingerprints, iris scans, facial images, and other personal information on more than 270 million people, including children.

AWS logo
– Sebastian Moss

HART is primarily pitched at tracking legal and illegal immigrants in the US, but will also hold information on US citizens. Aggregating data from federal agencies, local and state police, and foreign governments, it will include data on people's relationships, religions, and travel patterns.

Under development since 2016, it is expected to initially hold 6.7 million iris scans and 1.1 billion face images. According to public procurement documents, HART plans to hold data for at least 75 years.

Given the concerns such a database raises, and the Department of Homeland Security's well-documented history of human rights abuses, more than 41 groups came together to protest AWS' involvement.

In a public letter signed by Access Now, Mijente, Electronic Privacy Information Center, and others, the groups said that "AWS is directly facilitating the creation of an invasive biometrics database that will supercharge surveillance and deportation, risking human rights violations.”

The letter to AWS CEO Adam Selipsky notes that the technology could be used for racially profiling individuals, as ICE's 'EDDIE' app is accused of being used for along the US-Mexico border.

The groups also note that the DHS admits it “cannot ensure accuracy” and quality of the data in HART, because the data is added by third parties, including foreign governments and companies like LexisNexis and Clearview AI.

The letter asks if AWS has performed a human rights due diligence report, whether it has taken any steps to mitigate the human rights risks of hosting sensitive biometric data, and if there are any provisions on human rights obligations.

Amazon already hosts other DHS programs, as well as the Palantir-designed Investigative Case Management system used by ICE to track and target people for deportation. Last month, the company was re-awarded a $10 billion contract to host the National Security Agency. It has hosted the CIA since 2013.

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