A group of Amazon employees are pressuring the company to stop offering its technology to police and US immigration authorities over fears of potential misuse.
“We refuse to build the platform that powers ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and we refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights,” reads an internal company letter from the employees, as first reported by The Hill.
The employees are demanding that the company stop selling its facial-recognition technology to law enforcement, claiming it could power a “surveillance state.” They’re also protesting a seperate Amazon cloud services contract with Palantir, a secretive data-mining firm that sells to US federal government agencies.
“We know that ICE relies on Palantir to power its detention and deportation programs,” the letter claims. “Along with much of the world we watched in horror recently as US authorities tore children away from their parents.”
It isn’t clear how many staffers backed the letter, but Amazon is the latest tech giant to face employee resistance over the use of their company’s technology by US authorities. Employees at Microsoft have demanded that Redmond end a contract with ICE, and Google workers protested the tech giant’s involvement in a Pentagon AI project over worries the technology could be used to kill.
Amazon declined to comment on the letter, but earlier this month, it issued a blog post about selling its facial -recognition technology to law enforcement.. Called Rekognition, the system can offer a low-cost way for police to scan numerous photos and videos to identify criminal suspects human eyes may have missed.
In the blog post, Amazon said the technology has been helping to stop crimes such as human trafficking and child exploitation. “There have always been and will always be risks with new technology capabilities,” it said. “But we believe it is the wrong approach to impose a ban on promising new technologies because they might be used by bad actors for nefarious purposes in the future.”
Others don’t agree. In May, dozens of activist groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, sent a letter to Amazon’s CEO, demanding that he stop providing the technology to law enforcement on fears its could be used to track protestors, immigrants, or anyone authorities wish to monitor.
The group of Amazon employees also say they want no part in enabling the surveillance tech. “As ethically concerned Amazonians, we demand a choice in what we build, and a say in how it is used,” the letter reads. The employees point to how IBM leased its machines to the Nazis during World War II as an example of how bad actors can abuse technologies.
“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,” the letter adds.
UPDATE: Amazon said that both Palantir and ICE are not using the company’s facial recogniton tech.
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