Protesters petition Amazon to stop selling technology to ICE



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Activists rallying outside of the Spheres at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters on July 15, 2019. They called on the company to stop selling technology to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. — Seattle Times/TNS

SEATTLE: Several dozen activists chanted and held banners on July 15 outside Amazon’s Seattle headquarters calling on the company to stop providing technology to US government immigration authorities, in one of several pressure campaigns focused on the commerce giant during its Prime Day summer sale.

Jennifer Lee of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington pointed to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency’s requests to perform face surveillance searches on images in state driver’s license databases in Washington and other states. She said that Amazon has pitched the agency on its facial recognition technology, Rekognition.

“If Amazon continues to collaborate with ICE, it will fuel deportation efforts, which terrorise immigrant communities throughout the country, resulting in countless errors, deportations without due process and increased racial profiling,” Lee said at a rally in front of the Amazon Spheres.

“Our faces should not be weaponised to surveil and oppress immigrant communities,” she added to cheers from a few dozen protesters from groups including La Resistencia, MiJente Seattle and Puget Sound Sage. The activists also delivered a petition to Amazon they said was supported by more than 270,000 people.

An Amazon Web Services (AWS) spokesperson reiterated an earlier statement that “companies and government organisations need to use existing and new technology responsibly and lawfully”. The company recently joined its cloud computing rivals Microsoft and Google in calling for national regulation of facial recognition technology.

“There is clearly a need for more clarity from governments on what is acceptable use of (artificial intelligence) and ramifications for its misuse, and we’ve provided a proposed legislative framework for this,” the spokesperson said.

Amazon says it does not discuss specific customers without their consent.

In Minnesota, meanwhile, workers at a fulfilment centre carried out a planned strike, believed to be the first at an Amazon facility in the US. Amazon workers affiliated with the UNI Global Union also planned Prime Day protest actions in Germany, the UK, Spain and Poland.

Amazon is focused on executing its sales event, with some workers around the Seattle headquarters wearing “Prime Day” T-shirts. Unlike last year, there were no reported technical glitches slowing down sales as of Monday evening.

It remains to be seen what if any impact the protests and strike actions, as well as growing competition, may have on demand from shoppers during the sale, which continues through Tuesday. Amazon provides its Prime Day discounts to reward its most avid customers – those who pay US$119 (RM489) for an annual shipping and media subscription – and to attract more subscribers.

Lee and three other activists, trailed by television cameras, carried a box they said contained a petition signed by more than 270,000 people across the street to Amazon’s newly opened re: Invent building. They asked to meet with Andy Jassy, CEO of AWS – who has also been under pressure on this issue from employees internally – and waited for a time outside a security checkpoint as Amazon employees came and went.

Activists in eight other US cities planned similar efforts to deliver the petition to Amazon facilities and Jeff Bezos’ New York City home. Last week, protesters disrupted an AWS conference with calls on the company to cut ties to ICE.

The activists in Seattle ultimately decided to leave the petition printouts at the building’s main reception desk, returning to the crowd in front of the Spheres. – The Seattle Times/Tribune News Service.

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