Amazon employees have written a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos in which they ask the company to stop selling its facial recognition tool to American law enforcement.
The tech giant’s sales to U.S. cops were revealed by an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) investigation earlier this month, as it emerged Amazon Web Services’ Rekognition tool was shipped to police in Florida and Oregon. The cost of the tool was also revealed to be remarkably low, as evidenced by a Forbes test of the product, in which a facial recognition project was set up for free across the publication’s Jersey City and London offices.
In a letter posted to an internal forum, first revealed by The Hill and published in full by Gizmodo, some employees expressed the same concerns as the ACLU about the power of Amazon’s Recognition being abused by American officers. The letter also called on Amazon to cease providing computing infrastructure to Palantir, the Peter Thiel-backed surveillance company, over concerns about the company’s work with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department that’s been caught up in the furor over the forced separation of children from their parents at the border.
“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,” the letter, signed off by “Amazonians,” read.
“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.”
It comes after a recent spate of protests across workforces in Silicon Valley about tech giants’ work with the U.S. government. As uncovered by Gizmodo’s Kate Conger, Google employees were up in arms about the company’s work with the Pentagon on an artificial-intelligence-powered drone footage analysis initiative known as Maven. Google subsequently decided to stop working on the project.
Microsoft staff this week called on the company to cease working with ICE. While CEO Satya Nadella slammed the practice of separating children and parents, he said the company was not providing any tech aiding in ICE’s work on separating families.
Palantir, which The Intercept last year revealed provides a $20 million Investigative Case Management service for ICE, has not responded to Forbes’ request for comment on its work for the immigration department. Recent contracts show Palantir received $250,000 from ICE this month and $12.2 million in May 2017, among many other orders.
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