Yesterday, at an Amazon all-staff meeting, the company addressed its relationship with law enforcement agencies. This action is in response to the employee concerns raised in June about the company’s frequent successful attempts to provide cloud infrastructure and facial recognition software for the government authorities (including Immigrations Customs and Law Enforcement). This was the very first Amazon all-staff meeting and was live streamed globally.
When asked about what is being done in response to the concerns voiced by both Amazon employees and civil rights groups, Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, said, “There’s a lot of value being enjoyed from Amazon Rekognition. Now now, of course, with any kind of technology, you have to make sure that it’s being used responsibly, and that’s true with new and existing technology. Just think about all the evil that could be done with computers or servers and has been done, and you think about what a different place our world would be if we didn’t allow people to have computers.”
According to Buzzfeed, questions for the meeting were pre-screened and with no opportunity for questions.
Last year, Amazon faced controversy over some uses of its AI-powered facial recognition product, Rekognition. Its use cases range from being used to monitor faces in group photos, crowded events and public places such as airports, and run those images for matches against mugshot databases.
In June, hundreds of Amazon employees signed a letter titled ‘We Won’t Build It’, an open letter to CEO Jeff Bezos asking Amazon to stop selling Rekognition to the police, citing “historic militarization of police, renewed targeting of Black activists, and the growth of a federal deportation force currently engaged in human rights abuses”. The employee letter states, “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 workers also pointed out Amazon’s commercial relationship with the data firm Palantir, which does business with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to the public documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, “Amazon also pitched its facial recognition technology directly to the ICE, a few months after the federal immigration agency started enforcing President Trump’s controversial zero-tolerance family-separation border policy.”
The American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU) also raised concerns on Amazon Rekognition’s misuse for racial profiling. This issue was identified after the organization ran a test and found that the software incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress, identifying them as other people who have been arrested for a crime and that the false matches disproportionately involved people of color, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Jeff Bezos, at a Wired conference last month, stated, “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.”
To know more about this news in detail, head over to the complete Q&A of the meeting on BuzzFeed.