- Amazon employees signed and sent a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos asking the company to stop selling facial-recognition software to law-enforcement agencies and to cease its business dealings with Palantir.
- The letter was signed by over 100 Amazon workers, including senior-level engineers, sources told Business Insider.
- You can read the full letter below.
On Thursday a group of Amazon employees sent a signed letter to CEO Jeff Bezos calling on the company to stop selling a sophisticated facial-recognition software to law-enforcement agencies.
Business Insider has learned that more than 100 Amazon workers signed the letter, including some senior engineers.
Those who signed the letter want the company to cease “providing infrastructure to Palantir (the company that builds predictive policing tools) and any other Amazon partners who enable (Immigration and Customs Enforcement),” according to documents reviewed by Business Insider. They also ask that Amazon “implement strong transparency and accountability measures” that identify which law enforcement agencies are already using the company’s technology.
Last May, the American Civil Liberties Union reported that Amazon had “officially entered the surveillance business.” The ACLU said that it had seen Amazon’s marketing materials for Rekognition and that it had focused on selling the software to governments and police. The ACLU also wrote that Rekognition, powered by artificial intelligence, could in real time “identify, track and analyze” the faces of up to 100 people from a single image.
In a blog post three weeks ago, Dr. Matt Wood, general manager of artificial intelligence at Amazon Web Services, defended Rekognition, saying the technology was already benefitting society by “preventing human trafficking” and “inhibiting child exploitation.”
“Each organization choosing to employ technology must act responsibly,” Wood wrote. “AWS takes its responsibilities seriously. But we believe it is the wrong approach to impose a ban on promising new technologies because they might be used by bad actors.”
The letter to Bezos is the latest in a recent string of employee revolts at some of the tech sector’s biggest companies. Many tech workers don’t want to help create software or other tech that might be used to wage war or conduct surveillance on the public. The Hill first reported about the existence of the letter.
At Google, employees not only circulated a petition that demanded Google stop supplying artificial-intelligence tools that assisted the US Department of Defense to analyze drone-video footage, but someone within the company also leaked some embarrassing emails that showed the extent of management’s ambitions on working with the military.
Eventually, Google relented, and earlier this month the company promised not to make AI weapons or use the technology for anything that could cause harm.
Microsoft employees followed suit by calling on management to end its cloud-computing contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
Read the full letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos below:
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:
1 . Stop selling facial recognition services to law enforcement
2. Stop providing infrastructure to Palantir and any other Amazon partners who enable ICE.
3. 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.