Amazon

Amazon is next to face employee protest over government contracts

amazon government protest contract surveillance face recognition
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Mere days after Google and Microsoft staff protested their employers’ controversial government contracts, Amazon is facing its own internal revolt.

Amazon employees are not all too pleased with their company’s sale of facial recognition software and other services to US government bodies.

Much like Google and Microsoft’s employees, who demanded their respective companies never undertake work that may cause social or physical harm, a similar letter was posted on Amazon’s internal wiki.

The letter, addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, said: “We refuse to build the platform that powers ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], and we refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights. As ethically concerned Amazonians, we demand a choice in what we build, and a say in how it is used.”

ICE has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks due to the separation and detainment of children from their families at the US border.

“In the face of this immoral US policy, and the US’s increasingly inhumane treatment of refugees and immigrants beyond this specific policy, we are deeply concerned that Amazon is implicated, providing infrastructure and services that enable ICE and DHS,” they wrote.

Another worry for the Amazonians is that marginalised groups, which facial recognition technology is already less accurate at identifying correctly, may be further discriminated against through use of their tech.

The full letter can be found below:

Dear Jeff,

We are troubled by the recent report from the ACLU exposing our company’s practice of selling AWS Rekognition, a powerful facial recognition technology, to police departments and government agencies. We don’t have to wait to find out how these technologies will be used. We already know that in the midst of historic militarization of police, renewed targeting of Black activists, and the growth of a federal deportation force currently engaged in human rights abuses — this will be another powerful tool for the surveillance state, and ultimately serve to harm the most marginalized. We are not alone in this view: over 40 civil rights organizations signed an open letter in opposition to the governmental use of facial recognition, while over 150,000 individuals signed another petition delivered by the ACLU.

We also know that Palantir runs on AWS. And we know that ICE relies on Palantir to power its detention and deportation programs. Along with much of the world we watched in horror recently as U.S. authorities tore children away from their parents. Since April 19, 2018 the Department of Homeland Security has sent nearly 2,000 children to mass detention centers. This treatment goes against U.N. Refugee Agency guidelines that say children have the right to remain united with their parents, and that asylum-seekers have a legal right to claim asylum. In the face of this immoral U.S. policy, and the U.S.’s increasingly inhumane treatment of refugees and immigrants beyond this specific policy, we are deeply concerned that Amazon is implicated, providing infrastructure and services that enable ICE and DHS.

Technology like ours is playing an increasingly critical role across many sectors of society. What is clear to us is that our development and sales practices have yet to acknowledge the obligation that comes with this. Focusing solely on shareholder value is a race to the bottom, and one that we will not participate in.

We refuse to build the platform that powers ICE, and we refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights.

As ethically concerned Amazonians, we demand a choice in what we build, and a say in how it is used. We learn from history, and we understand how IBM’s systems were employed in the 1940s to help Hitler. IBM did not take responsibility then, and by the time their role was understood, it was too late. We will not let that happen again. The time to act is now.

We call on you to:

  • Stop selling facial recognition services to law enforcement
  • Stop providing infrastructure to Palantir and any other Amazon partners who enable ICE.
  • Implement strong transparency and accountability measures, that include enumerating which law enforcement agencies and companies supporting law enforcement agencies are using Amazon services, and how.

Our company should not be in the surveillance business; we should not be in the policing business; we should not be in the business of supporting those who monitor and oppress marginalized populations.

Sincerely,

Amazonians

Microsoft also came under fire this week from its employees who called on the company to drop its own contract with over $19 million with ICE. The company’s CEO, Satya Nadella, said on Tuesday that Microsoft isn’t directly involved with the government’s policy of separating families at the US-Mexico border.

The leaderships of many technology giants argue that most technological developments could be used for harm. Even the computer may never have been able to be sold if how much harm it could be used for was accounted.

It all comes down to whether the societal benefits outweigh the risks, and right now it seems many agree the risks are too great.

Read more: Amnesty International warns of AI ‘nightmare scenarios’

What are your thoughts on the protests over government contracts? Let us know in the comments.

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