The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Amazon employees demand company cut ties with ICE

An fulfillment center in Robbinsville, N.J. (Bess Adler/Bloomberg News)

Employees at are calling on chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos to end the sale of facial-recognition technology to law enforcement agencies and to discontinue partnerships with companies that work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In a letter, a group of Amazon workers said they are also troubled by a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union revealing the company's sale and marketing of Rekognition, its facial-recognition technology, to police departments and government agencies. Workers at Amazon are protesting the recently halted Trump administration policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"We don’t have to wait to find out how these technologies will be used. We already know that in the midst of historic militarization of police, renewed targeting of Black activists, and the growth of a federal deportation force currently engaged in human rights abuses — this will be another powerful tool for the surveillance state, and ultimately serve to harm the most marginalized," the letter states.

Amazon did not respond to requests for comment. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The letter, which was first reported by Gizmodo, follows employee-driven campaigns at Microsoft and Google, where workers have denounced projects that provide technology to ICE and to military operations. Earlier this week, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella told employees that the company's nearly $20 million contract with ICE was not tied to the Trump policy of separating children from their parents at the border. Google responded to a firestorm of employee resignations and public outcry surrounding a Defense Department deal. Executives said they would not renew an artificial intelligence contract for software that could help the Pentagon analyze drone video. Soon after, Google said it was banning the development of AI that can be used in weapons.

According to the ACLU report, Amazon had been offering surveillance tech and consulting services to law enforcement agencies for only a fistful of dollars. The report prompted a coalition of civil rights groups to demand that Amazon "stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure." And the details of Amazon’s program highlighted the spread of powerful technologies into American life, often without public input or debate.

“While Mr. Bezos remains silent, Amazon employees are standing up and joining shareholders, civil rights groups, and concerned consumers to call out Amazon’s face surveillance technology for what it is: a unique threat to civil rights and especially to the immigrants and people of color under attack by this administration," said Nicole Ozer, the technology and civil liberties director for the ACLU of California. "We stand in support of these employees’ call on Mr. Bezos to do the right thing. Amazon must stop providing dangerous face surveillance to the government.”

Amazon employees are also calling for the company to end its cloud hosting services with Palantir, the Silicon Valley data analysis firm co-founded by billionaire investor and Facebook board member Peter Thiel. "We also know that Palantir runs on [Amazon Web Services]. And we know that ICE relies on Palantir to power its detention and deportation programs," the letter states. "We refuse to build the platform that powers ICE, and we refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights."