Amazon worker pushes Bezos to stop selling facial recognition tech to law enforcement

Amazon worker pushes Bezos to stop selling facial recognition tech to law enforcement
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An Amazon employee is seeking to put new pressure on the company to stop selling its facial recognition technology to law enforcement.

An anonymous worker, whose employment at Amazon was verified by Medium, published an op-ed on that platform on Tuesday criticizing the company’s facial recognition work and urging the company to respond to an open letter delivered by a group of employees.

The employee wrote that the government has used surveillance tools in a way that disproportionately hurts “communities of color, immigrants, and people exercising their First Amendment rights.”

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“Ignoring these urgent concerns while deploying powerful technologies to government and law enforcement agencies is dangerous and irresponsible,” the person wrote.

“That’s why we were disappointed when Teresa Carlson, vice president of the worldwide public sector of Amazon Web Services, recently said that Amazon ‘unwaveringly supports’ law enforcement, defense, and intelligence customers, even if we don’t ‘know everything they’re actually utilizing the tool for.’”

The op-ed comes one day after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos defended technology companies working with the federal government on matters of defense during Wired’s ongoing summit in San Francisco.

“If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the U.S. Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble,” Bezos said on Monday.

Bezos said that if a technology is misused, societies ultimately solve the issue before things go too far. Amazon workers said in their letter that this type of attitude could hurt people down the line.

On stage, he acknowledged that big tech’s products might be misused, even exploited, by autocrats,” the worker wrote. “But rather than meaningfully explain how Amazon will act to prevent the bad uses of its own technology, Mr. Bezos suggested we wait for society’s 'immune response.'

"If Amazon waits, we think the harm will be difficult to undo.”

A group of over 400 employees signed a letter in June urging Amazon to stop selling its facial recognition software to law enforcement and working with Palantir, which provides digital services to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

Amazon at the time defended its products by saying that there is always risk in new technology and potential misuse should not hinder the development of products.

The worker in the op-ed referenced that letter, urging Amazon to take action "right now."

"This is not a hypothetical situation," the worker wrote.

Other companies, including Salesforce and Microsoft, have faced similar backlash from their workers over contracts with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement.

Google ceded to worker demands twice this year. It agreed to end its contract with the Pentagon for AI that supports military drone use and stopped its pursuit of a multibillion-dollar “JEDI” contract to provide the Pentagon cloud computing services, both after intense backlash from Google workers.

On Friday, Microsoft employees wrote their own public letter asking the company to drop its JEDI contract bid. The company said that it will continue to pursue the Pentagon cloud computing contract.