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Amazon Employees Revolt Against Company Collaborating with Police, ICE, and DHS

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Amid Amazon’s ongoing collusion with government organizations, company employees circulated an open letter to CEO Jeff Bezos this week demanding he cancel the internet monolith’s contracts with law enforcement and Palantir, a tech firm that has helped the NSA expand its surveillance capabilities.

Gizmodo reported Wednesday that the internal letter circulated on a mailing list titled, “we-won’t-build-it,” calls on Bezos to discontinue its sales of facial recognition software, called “Rekognition,” to police departments, as well as to remove Palantir from its cloud services.

The employees specifically mention the Trump administration’s recent, controversial immigration crackdown, which has seen children separated from their parents and placed in detention centers. “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,” the letter reads.

We refuse to build the platform that powers ICE, and we refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights,” the employees also said, highlighting the fact that ICE uses Palantir, and Palantir runs on Amazon Web Services. It is unclear how many employees have signed on to the letter, and Amazon and Palantir have not yet responded to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

Citing concerns that have been mounting across society for years, the dissenting employees asserted:

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.

The employees who signed the letter are demanding the following:

  • 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.”

The ACLU of California praised the employees, singling out Bezos for his continued collaboration with the government and Palantir. According to Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director at the ACLU of California:

While Mr. Bezos remains silent, Amazon employees are standing up and joining shareholders, civil rights groups, and concerned consumers to call out Amazon’s face surveillance technology for what it is: a unique threat to civil rights and especially to the immigrants and people of color under attack by this administration.We stand in support of these employees’ call on Mr. Bezos to do the right thing. Amazon must stop providing dangerous face surveillance to the government.”

Amazon has a long history of working with controversial government organizations. It has long provided cloud services to the CIA, securing a $600 million contract with the agency in 2014. The company openly discusses its close working relationships with the government through its Amazon Web Services (AWS), boasting late last lear that their services can “operate workloads up to the Secret U.S. security classification level. The AWS Secret Region is readily available to the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) through the IC’s Commercial Cloud Services (C2S) contract with AWS.” They noted that “[w]ith the launch of this new Secret Region, AWS becomes the first and only commercial cloud provider to offer regions to serve government workloads across the full range of data classifications, including Unclassified, Sensitive, Secret, and Top Secret.

Amazon is far from the only company to provide tech services to the U.S. government. Microsoft has a similar cloud services contract with intelligence agencies, and Google was implicated in the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program in 2013. More recently, Google came under fire for developing artificial intelligence to be used under the Pentagon’s drone warfare program. As a result of an employee revolt similar to what is now occurring at Amazon, Google announced it would not seek to renew that contract.

If those in charge of these companies are unwilling to protest on their own in the face of increasingly authoritarian developments, it seems at least some employees are stepping up. As the letter from “Amazonians” concluded:

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.

You can read the full letter here.