Victor Tangermann
Surveillance State

Protesters Interrupt Amazon Event to Decry Its Work With ICE

"Amazon Rekognition is primed for abuse in the hands of governments."

Dan RobitzskiJuly 11th 2019

Mass Protests

Protests broke out at Amazon’s AWS Summit, a conference hosted in New York City to celebrate the company’s cloud computing services, on Thursday.

As Amazon CTO Werner Vogels gave a presentation, a group led by a man identified in a tweet as a tech worker interrupted to protest the online retailer-turned-tech giant’s ties with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing immigration policy. ABC News reports that tech workers and immigration activists held protests throughout the event, temporarily blocking traffic in Manhattan.

The protestors take issue with Amazon’s contracts with the military technology company Palantir, which develops artificial intelligence systems for government agencies and currently relies on Amazon services to support its tech.

The protesters also called on Amazon to stop selling its facial recognition AI software, Rekognition, to the government agencies like ICE that monitor and target immigrants as well as to other companies that hold government contracts.

At a time when the U.S. operates detention centers that house immigrants and asylum seekers in crowded, inhumane conditions and on the eve of nationwide raids during which ICE plans to track down and arrest thousands of immigrants living in major cities, the protesters demanded Amazon stop working with those that oppress marginalized populations.

Vogels was caught off guard by the protests but continued on about the specifics of AWS, according to ZDNet.

“I’m more than willing to have a conversation, but maybe they should let me finish first,” Vogels said amidst protesters, whose audio was cut off on Amazon’s official livestream of the event, per ZDNet.

“We’ll all get our voices heard,” he said before returning to his planned speech.

As the federal government cracks down on immigration, facial recognition tools like Rekognition will only make it easier to target the vulnerable, and protesters see that longstanding partnership as Amazon actively profiting off of cruelty.

“Amazon Rekognition is primed for abuse in the hands of governments. This product poses a grave threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build,” the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in June 2018. “Amazon must act swiftly to stand up for civil rights and civil liberties, including those of its own customers, and take Rekognition off the table for governments.”

READ MORE: Immigrant rights protesters block traffic, disrupt Amazon conference at Javits Center [ABC News]

More on Amazon and ICE: Employees, ACLU Demand Amazon Stop Facilitating Government Surveillance

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