Amazon employees have sent a letter to company founder Jeff Bezos, in which they urge him to stop selling facial recognition tools to law enforcement.
The letter comes shortly after similar anti-authority employee protests at Google and Microsoft, writes Gizmodo. In it, employees ask Bezos to stop selling the Rekognition software to law enforcement agencies and to kick data-mining firm Palantir off of the Amazon Web Services. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) apparently uses Palantir's technology to identify illegal immigrants.
Workers are specifically targeting the ‘zero-tolerance' immigration policy being practiced at the US border, which has resulted in hundreds of parents and children being separated.
"Along with much of the world we watched in horror recently as U.S. authorities tore children away from their parents," the letter goes. "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 [Department of Homeland Security]."
John Mina, police chief of Orlando, said in May that the city is testing the Rekognition software, but stressed that it is only being used to track the police officers who have agreed to be part of the pilot.
Amazon's employees will be hoping to replicate the success of the Google campaign, which - after several resignations - led to the company announcing that it would not renew its contract for Project Maven, and launching new ethics principles.
The letter appears to be the first time that employees have demanded denying cloud services to a particular company, rather than ‘just' cancelling a contract. It is a minor but important distinction: the latter targets specific technology provisions, while the former is for more neutral cloud services. Like the use of face recognition by the police, it's a slippery slope to be on.
The letter is replicated below, with thanks to Gizmodo:
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.
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