Amazon Dismisses Employee Concerns over Government Facial Recognition Contracts

A camera used for facial recognition is seen this year at Miami International Airport, where border agents screen travelers entering the United States to determine if they are using their real passports

Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy dismissed employee concerns over the company’s “Rekognition” facial recognition contracts with the U.S. government and law enforcement during a meeting.

A transcript of Jassy’s comments at the meeting, which features the Amazon Web Services CEO noting that the company’s facial recognition contracts with law enforcement “help stop human trafficking” and “reunite missing kids with parents,” was published by Buzzfeed News, Thursday.

“With over five hundred thousand employees like we have at Amazon, I think we’re going to have people who have opinions that are very wide-ranging, which is great,” declared Jassy at an internal meeting. “But we feel really great and really strongly about the value that Amazon Rekognition is providing our customers of all sizes and all types of industries in law enforcement and out of law enforcement.”

“You see it in the value people are actually getting even after just about a year, year and a half of the service, where Rekognition is actively been used to help stop human trafficking, to reunite missing kids with parents for educational applications, for security and multi-factor authentication,” he continued, adding, “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,” Jassy proclaimed. “So you don’t want to get rid of that technology. You want to make sure that people use the technology responsibly, and we have a set of terms and services in AWS. And with all our services, including Rekognition, where if people violate those terms of services and don’t use them responsibly, they won’t be able to use our services any longer.”

“In fact, if we find the people are violating folks constitutional rights, they won’t be able to use the services. I also think, by the way, in a democracy is also often the role and the responsibilities of the government to help specify what the guidelines and regulations should be about technology,” the CEO concluded. “And, if and when that happens, we will abide by those as well. Thank you.”

According to Buzzfeed, however, not every employee was convinced by Jassy’s statement.

“I don’t think Amazon leadership addressed the concerns brought up in the question, and I don’t think a Q&A session at an all-hands meeting is enough or suitable for addressing the concerns appropriately,” expressed an anonymous Amazon employee to Buzzfeed. “There is no way to hold leadership responsible in comparison to, say, a letter or email from HR to all employees where a statement is written and more concrete.”

Last month, it was revealed that Amazon had pitched Rekognition to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), prompting controversy, while in June, Amazon employees provided a list of demands to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos after they accused him of aiding “immoral U.S. policy” by providing technology to the U.S. government and law enforcement.

In response, Bezos defended Amazon’s government contracts, declaring, “If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the DoD, this country is going to be in trouble.”

“We are going to continue to support the DoD, and I think we should. One of the jobs of senior leadership is to make the right decision, even when it’s unpopular,” Bezos explained. “I know everyone is conflicted about the current politics in this country — this country is a gem… It is amazing, it’s still the best place in the world, it’s the place people want to come, there aren’t other countries where everybody’s trying to get in. I’d let them in if it were up to me. I like them. I want all of them in. This is a great country and it does need to be defended.”

Rekognition has previously had problems, including identifying criminals on the FBI’s most wanted list as popular celebrities, and identifying 28 members of Congress as police suspects.

Charlie Nash is a reporter for Breitbart Tech. You can follow him on Twitter @MrNashington, or like his page at Facebook.


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