A group of activists staged a protest at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) summit on Tuesday in an effort to draw attention to the company’s work with immigration agencies and law enforcement agencies.
The collection of about a dozen protesters from MediaJustice, the Muslim Counterpublics Lab and For Us Not Amazon gathered outside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, during the event’s opening remarks.
The organizations hope to draw attention to how they say technologies provided by AWS, Amazon’s cloud service provider and one of the company’s main sources of revenue, are being used to monitor and target communities black and brown.
“These summits are just part of the public relations strategy to sanitize Amazon’s role as an enabler of state violence,” said Myaisha Hayes, director of campaign strategies at MediaJustice, an organization nonprofit that focuses on equity in technology and media.
“While attendees will spend three days learning all about the power and capabilities of AWS, I doubt they’ll hear about the people who have been displaced, arrested, and even deported because of Amazon’s technology,” said she told The Hill.
A handful of protesters attempted to enter the event to make their voices heard during the speech. Despite registering for the event, Hayes and Maha Hilal and Kris Garrity of the Muslim Counterpublics Lab had their credentials revoked and were asked by Amazon staff and building security to leave before kickoff. of speech.
In a video of the incident shared with The Hill, Hilal asks an Amazon employee why they are being fired and if he plans to ask other black or Muslim women at the event to leave.
“I don’t see any color,” replied the Amazon employee, who identified himself as John.
One activist, Arlin Telles of For Us Not Amazon, was not kicked out initially and briefly interrupted the keynote address by Max Peterson, AWS Vice President for Global Public Sector Works, before being escorted away out of the building by security. Telles told The Hill that she is now banned from all future AWS events.
An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the record regarding the protest or the activists’ pullout.
The activists intended to deliver a letter to AWS calling on the company to agree to host the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) biometric database once it goes live.
The letter co-signed by 38 civil society organizations calls on Amazon to end its agreement to host HART, which they call an “invasive biometric database that will enhance surveillance and eviction, risking violating human rights.” male”.
A recent report by immigrant rights groups Mijente, Just Futures Law and Immigrant Defense Project estimates that HART will include facial scans, fingerprints, voiceprints and other biometric information for more than 270 million people.
The database, according to the groups, will facilitate the targeting and deportation of thousands of individuals.
The protesters hope to educate the public about Amazon’s ties to immigration enforcement, something the average American is unlikely to associate with the company they know best for delivering packages quickly.
“All of this Amazon complicity in state violence is invisible,” Danny Cendejas, a grassroots organizer at Media Justice, told The Hill.
Protesters also criticized AWS’s work with national law enforcement.
The company imposed a year-long moratorium and then indefinitely suspended law enforcement access to its facial recognition technology after intense criticism shortly after the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing protests.
AWS’s Rekognition software has been criticized, including by Amazon’s own employees, for being less accurate in identifying people of color. At least three black men have been wrongfully arrested based on facial recognition matches in recent years, although Rekognition is not known to be involved in any of these cases.
At the same time that AWS stopped providing Rekognition to police, Amazon was expanding its partnerships with departments across the country for its Ring doorbells.
The camera doorbells, which run on AWS networks, have been criticized for vastly expanding law enforcement’s surveillance power without any oversight. Ring has partnerships with more than 1,800 departments, up from 770 at the start of 2020.
AWS tools have also been used by a company seeking to monitor and analyze inmate calls, which privacy groups say could amplify racial bias and leave prisoners to the vagaries of technology. unreliable artificial intelligence.
“Next Monday will mark the second anniversary of the death of George Floyd,” Hayes told The Hill. “And during this time, despite many promises to value black lives, Amazon’s actions have actually made black people less safe.”
The protesters also called on AWS to end its work with several federal agencies they say have degraded the privacy and security of Muslims by monitoring and targeting them.
“Obviously there is a lot of collusion (with) Amazon and hosting institutions and agencies like the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations), DHS, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) etc.” Hilal said. “Amazon makes the choice to host these agencies and institutions despite the violence they cause to black and brown communities.”