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Amazon workers ask Bezos to stop selling tech to law enforcement

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Amazon workers ask Bezos to stop selling tech to law enforcement
Amazon workers ask Bezos to stop selling tech to law enforcement

There was another social activism uprising in tech land this week — and this one got in Jeff Bezos’ face.

An undisclosed number of Amazon employees penned an open letter to the e-commerce giant chief executive asking that the company stop selling facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies.

The letter also asked Bezos to cut all business ties to Palantir, a data-mining company that works with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The employees feel ICE’s actions in dealing with immigrants and refugees is “immoral.”

Amazon’s facial-recognition software, called Rekognition, uses artificial intelligence to match images of faces captured on video-surveillance equipment to those in existing databases of millions of faces.

Amazon has pitched the technology to law enforcement agencies as making “investigation and monitoring of individuals easy and accurate,” according to emails obtained by the ACLU.

Palantir, a customer of Amazon Web Services, helps runs ICE’s case management system and helps facilitate the expulsion of undocumented immigrants from the country.

“In the face of this immoral US policy, and the US’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.

The letter, which was addressed to “Jeff” and signed “Amazonians,” explains how employees are worried about supporting “a federal deportation force currently engaged in human rights abuses.”

“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 reads.

“Technology like ours is playing an increasingly critical role across many sectors of society,” it continues. “What is clear to us is that our development and sales practices have yet to acknowledge the obligation that comes with this.”

The letter comes the same week that a group of 19 Amazon shareholders wrote to Bezos, urging him to stop selling Rekognition out of fear that it might fall into the wrong hands.

“In addition to our concerns for U.S. consumers who may be put in harm’s way with law enforcement’s use of Rekognition, we are also concerned sales may be expanded to foreign governments, including authoritarian regimes,” the shareholders said.

In a statement, Amazon Web Services head of AI Matt Wood said that banning the tech out of fears of how it’ll be used is the wrong move.

“The world would be a very different place if we had restricted people from buying computers because it was possible to use that computer to do harm,” he said. “Through responsible use, the benefits have far outweighed the risks.”

Amazon is the latest tech company to see a backlash from activist employees.

Google engineers signed a petition demanding their company end its work with the Pentagon’s Project Maven, an artificial intelligence operation.

The company then announced it would not seek additional work on the controversial project.

This week, 100 Microsoft employees wrote an open letter to the software giant’s executives protesting the company’s work with ICE.

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