- On Monday, Amazon Web Services employees circulated an internal letter demanding that Amazon stop working with big data company Palantir and that it take a stand against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
- On Thursday, immigration rights protesters blocked traffic and interrupted an AWS conference in New York City because of AWS's ties with ICE.
- Palantir runs its software on Amazon's cloud, and has over $150 million in contracts with ICE.
- A year ago, Amazon faced similar pressure from employees over its sales of facial recognition services to law enforcement, as well as its dealings with Palantir.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
On Monday, a group of Amazon employees sent out an internal email calling on Amazon to stop working with the big data company Palantir, which works with federal agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
This email, sent to employee mailing lists within Amazon Web Services, demanded that Palantir be removed from Amazon's cloud for violating its terms of service. It also called on Amazon to take a stand against ICE by making a statement establishing its position against immigration raids, deportations, and camps for migrants at the border.
ICE is preparing to begin nationwide raids of undocumented families on Sunday, the New York Times reported. This operation had previously been postponed.
"The world is watching the abuses in ICE's concentration camps unfold. We know that our company should, and can, do better," the letter said.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Palantir, a prominent data analysis startup that counts several government agencies as customers has over $150 million in contracts with ICE, which reports indicate entails providing software to gather data on undocumented immigrants' employment information, phone records, immigration history, and similar information. Its software is hosted in the AWS cloud.
The letter alleges that this is a violation of the AWS terms of service, which states that "[a]ny activities that are illegal, that violate the rights of others, or that may be harmful to others, our operations or reputation" may be grounds to "suspend or terminate" use of our services.
The letter said that Palantir enables ICE to "violate the rights of others," and working with the company is "harmful to our reputation."
The employees say in the letter that their protest is in the spirit of similar action at companies including Wayfair, Microsoft, and Salesforce, where workers have protested their employers' ties to ICE and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
"Workers across industries continue to resist having their labor used to power these abuses and Amazonians are proud to stand with them. Employees at Wayfair have walked out in protest of their company's contract with ICE, while Microsoft and Salesforce employees are organizing to stop their companies' respective border contracts. The time to act is now," the letter said.
"When members of Congress visited a facility recently, they learned that detained women were 'told by agents to drink from the toilets' if they wanted water. This is a horrifying violation of human rights — and it's powered by AWS," the letter said, alluding to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's reports from her tour of a CBP facility in Texas.
A person familiar with the matter tells Business Insider that the letter has sparked fierce debates on the employee mailing lists.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, protesters blocked traffic at an AWS Summit event in New York City and interrupted Amazon CTO Werner Vogels' talk, demanding that the cloud platform cut ties with ICE, ABC7NY reported.
The last letter
The origins of this week's letter date back to June 2018, when a group of Amazon employees sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and AWS CEO Andy Jassy demanding that the company stop providing its Rekognition facial recognition software to police, and that it stop its dealings with Palantir.
That original letter was signed by 500 employees, according to the new letter circulated this week.
This new letter claims that Jassy responded to these concerns at an all-hands meeting, saying that Amazon had no intention of making changes to its Rekognition business. According to the letter, Jassy later said: "Just because tech could be be misused doesn't mean we should ban it and condemn it."
Just May, protesters demonstrated at Amazon's shareholder meeting over the treatment of its employees and environmental issues.
Read the full letter below:
In June 2018, a group of concerned Amazonians sent a letter to Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy, demanding that AWS:
1. Cease sales of surveillance technology to law enforcement and government agencies
2. Stop providing infrastructure to Palantir and any other Amazon partners who enable ICE, and
3. Implement strong transparency accountability measures for the sale and user of our services.
Since then, the company has shied away at every opportunity from acknowledging this letter signed by more than 500 employees. When confronted on these questions at a company all hands, Andy Jassy said "we feel really great and really strongly about the value that Amazon Rekognition is providing our custom res of all sizes and types of industries in law enforcement, and out of law enforcement." More recently, he added that "just because tech could be be misused doesn't mean we should ban it and condemn it," comparing Rekognition to a knife: "you could use a knife in a surreptitious way." As Amazonians, we are told to take Ownership for our work, meaning we "never say 'that's not my job.'" Passing the buck on responsibility for the effects of our work is not Ownership.
Our demands have become even more urgent given recent news. The US government has been detaining people, including young children, in concentration camps under horrific conditions. Reports have described extreme overcrowding (one facility was holding 900 people, in a space designed for only 125), freezing temperatures (facilities are regularly referred to as "hieleras" or "iceboxes"), and cruelty from guards at these detention centers. When members of Congress visited a facility recently, they learned that detained women were "told by agents to drink from the toilets" if they wanted water. This is a horrifying violation of human rights -- and it's powered by AWS.
Palantir, which runs on AWS services, provides the technical infrastructure used by ICE to collect and process information about people targeted for deportation. A 2016 court disclosure revealed that Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), the primary deportation arm of ICE, uses Palantir's systems to gather information for its cases.
The AWS Acceptable Use Policy states that "[a]ny activities that are illegal, that violate the rights of others, or that may be harmful to others, our operations or reputation" may be grounds to "suspend or terminate" use of our services.
Palantir directly enables ICE to "violate the rights of others" by powering the deportation processes that are rounding up immigrants and putting them in concentration camps. Additionally, hosting Palantir is "harmful to our reputation" because it hurts customer trust and leads to negative publicity. By continuing to host Palantir despite clear documentation of ongoing rights abuses that result from their products, AWS is choosing not to enforce its Terms of Service.
AWS has already kicked other customers off the platform for similar violations. WikiLeaks was kicked off for potentially "putting innocent pe eople in jeopardy." If WikiLeaks crossed a line by posting leaked documents (because AWS felt they might contribute to harm), Palantir has certainly crossed that line by directly collaborating with an agency that is demonstrably putting vulnerable people in jeopardy.
Workers across industries continue to resist having their labor used to power these abuses and Amazonians are proud to stand with them. Employees at Wayfair have walked out in protest of their company's contract with ICE, while Microsoft and Salesforce employees are organizing to stop their companies' respective border contracts. The time to act is now.
We demand that Palantir be removed from AWS for its violation of our terms of service. We call on Amazon to take a public stand against these human rights violations and make a statement establishing their position against the ICE camps, mass raids, and deportations.
The world is watching the abuses in ICE's concentration camps unfold. We know that our company should, and can, do better.
Join us in calling for a stop to our collaboration with ICE by signing onto the We Won't Build It Letter.
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