For Immediate Release: June 11, 2020
Athena Statement: Amazon Temporarily Halts Rekognition Police Partnerships
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to Amazon’s pledge to place a moratorium on police use of its facial recognition technology Rekognition, Athena released the following statements from member groups MediaJustice, Fight for the Future, Mijente, MPower Change, For Us Not Amazon and Free Press:
Myaisha Hayes, Campaign Strategies Director, MediaJustice
“MediaJustice has been fighting to ban facial recognition and other forms of surveillance that are used to target and oppress Black people, immigrants, Muslim communities and other marginalized groups the white supremacist state deems unworthy of full humanity and dignity. This moratorium is a victory because it’s clear Amazon has felt our pressure. However, we have no doubt that Amazon’s announcement is no more than a political stunt meant to quell widespread momentum and demands for the corporation to stop profiting from our oppression and cut ties with all law enforcement agencies.
To be clear, Amazon does not care about Black lives. Jeff Bezos does not care about Black lives. They don’t care about Black immigrants. They don’t care about their Black workers because, if they did, they would not quickly retaliate against them and fire them when they organize for safer and dignified working conditions. Amazon’s announcement didn’t say, like IBM, they were going to get out of the facial recognition business for good. They didn’t even say they were going to stop working with oppressive state entities like ICE and DHS.
Amazon claims they will stop allowing police to use their racist, inaccurate and dangerous facial recognition technology. However, Amazon, via Ring, continues, even now, to quietly sign agreements with police forces across the U.S., placing the surveillance state on our front porches. Ultimately, Amazon’s words are nothing more than a cover up story to draw attention away from how their technology is used to strengthen the power of an abusive state at the expense of Black lives. We aren’t asking for a moratorium. We are demanding facial recognition technology be abolished. Let’s not get distracted by empty words. They are not for us. They never were and they never will be.”
Evan Greer, Deputy Director, Fight for the Future
“We’re not falling for this performative moratorium. Amazon’s going to use the next year to make their facial recognition software better for law enforcement. Meanwhile, they’ll continue to grow their surveillance partnerships with local police departments and power ICE’s militarized deportations. Their core business model profits off the oppression of Black and brown people. Black Lives Matter “solidarity” posts and a one year moratorium aren’t going to change that. In fact these things would be laughable if Amazon’s surveillance dragnet wasn’t so dangerous and didn’t ruin lives.
Amazon needs to end their role in the assault on Black lives. This means ending their surveillance partnerships with over 1,350 police departments, cutting ties with ICE, and joining IBM in ending all research, development, and sale of their facial recognition software. Anything less is unacceptable. Either Amazon profits off the surveillance system used to destroy Black folks or stands for racial justice and Black lives, but they can’t do both.”
“Nothing in this statement about whether: 2) AWS will stop taking contracts from police agencies; 2) ICE is using Rekognition, and if so, whether they’ll now stop; 3) No commitment to end to the Ring doorbell camera partnerships with police. Let’s hold off celebrating just yet.
Last week the CEO of Amazon Web Services, Andy Jassy, said he didn’t even know how many police forces were using Rekognition. He also denied that AWS works w ICE (that’s a lie) and said: “If we find that we have customers, who are violating people’s civil liberties and violating the law, and we have documented proof of that, we will suspend their ability to use our platform.
Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it should be done. Folks: be careful with this news. Both IBM and now Amazon plan to write the laws so they can keep profiting on our data. This is a call to action to get involved. Don’t let corp lobbyists get away w/writing the law.”
Lau Barrios, Campaign Manager, MPower Change
“We must be painfully clear on two things. 1) Jeff Bezos is not an ally of the people rising up against policing, state violence, and militarism. 2) Amazon’s corporate ambitions do not include defunding the police or defending Black lives.
For years, Amazon has aggressively sought out military and police contracts while feigning ‘goodness’—dumping millions into advertising spending and nifty high-profile endorsements. But Amazon is a leader in powering state violence. They provide technology for ICE’s detention-deportation machine. They partner with 1,330+ police departments. We cannot forget that Bezos himself and Amazon have been filing complaints against the Pentagon up until May of 2020, demanding participation in one of the most lethal military and tech partnerships in history—the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI). The contract was awarded to Microsoft, and Bezos is infuriated.
As we welcome any and all moves by tech giants to limit its use of facial recognition that surveils, tracks, and aids in police violence against Black people, we know this move by Amazon is largely a PR stunt and our fight is far from over. The call is to defund police. If Bezos wants to show a real commitment to Black lives, he will permanently cancel all AWS, Ring, and other contracts with ICE and police and end all development and deployment of facial recognition technology. Period. We reiterate our support for a complete and total ban on facial recognition technology once and for all.”
Danny Cendejas, Organizer, La ColectiVA and For Us Not Amazon
“Like its response to the COVID-19 crisis, which allowed Amazon to rake in money while its workers continued to get sick and die, this is pretty much the least Amazon could do to end its complicity in harming Black people. We have little to no clue if Amazon even collaborates with police departments on Rekognition–because it won’t say.
We do know, however, that it has contracts with over 1,300 police departments for Ring, which makes it much easier for the police to target and detain Black people. We also know that Amazon actively seeks contracts with government agencies, including ICE, to use Rekognition to target immigrants and hosts Palantir’s dangerous technology. Instead of being a statement of principle, this moratorium only passes the buck to federal legislators. Hold your applause. This moratorium allows Amazon’s business model to continue its reliance on the systemic targeting and harming of Black people.”
Lucia Martinez, Digital Campaign Manager, Free Press
“Amazon’s decision to place a moratorium on police use of its facial recognition technology is a credit to the organizations and activists that have been shining a light on the company’s harmful contracts with police departments and ICE. However, a temporary halt to these contracts is not enough. We need long-term solutions, not half-measures. Amazon must immediately and permanently cut all ties with police and ICE.
For years, Amazon has silently armed police with neighborhood-surveillance cameras and dangerous facial-recognition technology, while powering the software behind ICE deportations. As we follow the Movement for Black Lives’ call to defund the police, we must also hold to account the tech companies that have enabled police surveillance and brutality targeted at Black and brown communities. There is no question that Amazon has benefitted from its relationships with police departments across the country and ICE. It will take more than a temporary moratorium to make that right.”
Amazon continues to collaborate with police departments through Ring partnerships and Amazon Web Services contracts. Through its ownership of Ring, Amazon has partnerships with more than 1,360 police departments, relationships that will be unaffected by yesterday’s news. Twenty-nine of those contracts and counting have been signed in the weeks since George Floyd was killed – including a contract in Crystal, Minnesota, just a few miles from Minneapolis, and another in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where a recent news report revealed that another man of color, Antonio Valenzuela, was killed by police in February. Ring has long been criticized for contributing to the criminalization of Black communities.
In the wake of national uprisings over the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Amazon’s collaboration with police have come under increased public scrutiny. A coalition of racial justice organizations have launched a petition demanding Amazon cut all ties with police departments and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On Saturday, racial justice advocates in Northern Virginia, where Amazon is constructing its HQ2, held a protest demanding the tech giant end its cooperation with police departments.
Athena is a powerful force of diverse working people — people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+ folks, people who own small businesses, and people who work directly and indirectly for Amazon — in 50+ organizations working together to break the dangerous stranglehold of corporate power over our democracy, economy, and planet.