Employees at some of the largest tech firms in the world have never shied away from expressing their concerns regarding their companies sharing technology with government or law enforcement. It looks like Amazon is yet another large tech company that’s suffering from the same thing. A report that was published on Gizmodo revealed that Amazon employees have protested against the company’s decision to offer its Rekognition facial recognition software to the police.
In particular, the employees have taken issue with the controversial “zero tolerance” immigration policy by the Trump administration. The policy has separated many migrant children from their parents at the border. This is something that has drawn wide-scale condemnation from a wide range of leaders and now Amazon employees are taking a stand. The employees say that Amazon’s collaboration with law enforcement has enabled the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the Department of Homeland Security to implement this “zero tolerance” policy to the detriment of children.
The protest letter that was written to Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos read in part that, “Along with the world, we have watched in horror recently as US authorities tear children away from their parents.” The letter continued to note that in the face of this “immoral policy” and increased “inhuman actions” by the US government towards refugees and immigrants, the employees were concerned that Amazon was providing infrastructure to enable or facilitate these actions.
ACLU, a free speech group in the US, revealed in May that Amazon was selling real-time facial recognition software to law enforcement. The software allows police to compare mugshots of suspects with real photos. Although the police departments have maintained that the software hasn’t been used in public spaces, there’s concern that these are murky waters and Amazon cannot afford to get entangled in them.
Earlier this month, a group of Amazon shareholders also raised issues with the facial recognition software and its use by the police. The shareholders called on Jeff Bezos to cut all contracts with police departments involved with the software. Many experts believe that the facial recognition system, especially if used on a real-time basis in public spaces, may raise massive privacy issues opening up companies like Amazon to liability.
But it’s not just Amazon employees who have protested against their company’s involvement with law enforcement. Just the other day, Microsoft employees also wrote a similar letter raising concerns over Microsoft’s involvement with ICE. There are also some reports indicating that top Google engineers have refused to build technologies that would help the search engine giant win military contracts.
It’s not clear whether Amazon or any of the other tech giants will listen to their employees and stop their contracts with law enforcement but there’s no doubt that this was a bold statement by the employees. The border crisis may also have abated a little bit after President Donald Trump signed a new executive order that would stop family separations. However, the fate of more than 2,000 children already separated from their parents is still unknown.