By Aaron Kesel
Jeff Bezos has embraced fascism, criticizing Silicon Valley for employees of companies like Google who don’t wish to work with the military. Meanwhile, a Gizmodo investigation has revealed that Amazon’s blanket surveillance network, Ring, has lied and misrepresented “what information, if any, they share with law enforcement.”
“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”―
Bezos made the comments during a Department Of Defense contractor meetup on Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum, Defense One reported.
“One of the things that’s happening inside of technology companies is there are groups of employees who, for example, think technology companies should not work with the Department of Defense,” Jeff Bezos said Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum. “People are entitled to their opinions, but it is the job of a senior leadership team to say no,” he said.
“My view is, if big tech is going to turn their back on the Department of Defense, this country is in trouble,” he said. “That just can’t happen.”
Bezos is alluding to companies like Google where their employees stand up and protest against working with the military in contracts like Project Maven assisting in drone development using artificial intelligence, as Activist Post previously reported.
There are even some Amazon employees against the company selling facial recognition technology to the government who have protested the company’s decision to aid police surveillance. In addition, over 20 groups of shareholders have sent several letters to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos urging him to stop selling the company’s face recognition software to law enforcement.
“We are concerned the technology would be used to unfairly and disproportionately target and surveil people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations,” the shareholders, which reportedly include Social Equity Group and Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, wrote. “We are concerned sales may be expanded to foreign governments, including authoritarian regimes.”
Another letter was sent in January 2019, organized by Open Mic, a nonprofit organization focused on corporate accountability, and was filed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood; both letters warned the technology poses “potential civil and human rights risks.”
Numerous civil rights organizations have also co-signed a letter demanding Amazon stop assisting government surveillance; and several members of Congress have expressed concerns about the partnerships.
Several lawmakers have even chimed in to voice concerns about Amazon’s facial recognition software, expressing worry that it could be misused, The Hill reported.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained hundreds of pages of documents showing Amazon offering the software to law enforcement agencies across the country.
In a 2018 report, the ACLU called Amazon’s facial recognition project a “threat to civil liberties.”
Amazon responded by essentially shrugging off the employees’ and shareholder concerns by the head of the company’s public sector cloud computing business, stating that the team is “unwaveringly” committed to the U.S. government.
“We are unwaveringly in support of our law enforcement, defense and intelligence community,” Teresa Carlson, vice president of the worldwide public sector for Amazon Web Services, said July 20th at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, FedScoop reported.
Amazon’s thought leader has now revealed his true intentions and we all should be horrified by Ring’s neighborhood surveillance software and Rekognition’s facial recognition technology. As Activist Post has said before, Bezos appears to be willing to create a surveillance database by whatever means necessary, it’s like his wet dream to do so.
Amazon seems hell-bent on creating a surveillance network, whether it’s through selling the FBI and law enforcement surveillance software like Amazon’s Facial Rekognition technology under fire by a government watchdog for its lack of privacy, or Amazon’s Ring’s neighborhood surveillance network working with police.
According to Gizmodo this represents a small minority of cameras and the maps only show Ring camera owners who’ve opted to share footage using the Neighbors app. Gizmodo was able to use video on Ring’s neighbors app to locate numerous locations within the app, to pinpoint the exact locations of users’ homes.
The other issue of privacy with Ring is that the company openly works with law enforcement and at times even allows police access to its surveillance web. Activist Post even reported that Ring worked with police in several cities for a package sting operation called Grinch Grab of would be thieves.
That’s not all — as Activist Post previously reported, Amazon’s Ring was teaching police to trick residents into sharing camera footage with them without a warrant as our Fourth Amendment rights are eroded.
If that’s not enough, GovTech has reported that police can go around customers and request Ring camera footage directly from Amazon when they are denied access to homeowners’ cameras. Therefore, bypassing permission of the owners of the cameras and going directly to the source, Amazon’s Ring, to “subpoena” video footage.
Amazon Ring now has a reported 225 partnerships with law enforcement according to Gizmodo. However, a report by Motherboard revealed that the number was actually 231 law enforcement agencies around the country who have partnered with Ring. It’s important to note that these partnerships take both a financial and digital form, because for every resident who downloads Ring’s Neighbors app, local police departments get credits toward buying the cameras they can then use distribute to residents. This arrangement makes salespeople out of what should be impartial and trusted protectors of our civic society, the EFF argues.
This is not the first time the government has attempted to use an economic incentive to expand the reach of surveillance technology and to subsidize the vendors. In 2017, EFF spoke out against legislation that would provide tax credits for California residents who purchased home security systems.
In other words, unlike other surveillance companies, Ring is trying to weasel its way into law enforcement becoming a part of our daily lives like a tick, leech or mosquito you can’t seem to get rid of. The fact that police wanted to give citizens free Ring devices in exchange for being able to access the sophisticated facial recognition cameras, raises a red flag about the expansion of the police state.
As the Intercept revealed recently, Amazon Ring further works with police to create a “suspicious neighbors” database of neighborhood watchlists using facial recognition technology.
The software will also give the Ring owner the ability to notify police or call in the suspicious activity on their own.
According to the documents, the watchlists would be connected to Ring’s Neighbors app, where owners of the system communicate with their neighbors about packages being stolen from doorsteps and other potential security breaches.
A Ring employee, speaking to the Intercept under the condition of anonymity, admitted that “all it is is people reporting people in hoodies.”
This is alarming considering, as Motherboard reported a few months ago, Ring was encouraging its users to snitch on their neighbors in exchange for discounts and free products. Amazon’s Ring also posted controversial ads on Facebook of suspected petty criminals calling them “Community Alerts.”
Activist Post Recommended Book: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism
Although Ring states that each video shown has an associated report number, the police themselves aren’t actually vetting the footage before it’s shared as an ad for “Community Alerts.” So what’s stopping Ring posting a video of someone innocent simply because it didn’t get the scrutiny needed? Further, is Ring actively endangering petty thieves by publishing the videos? This author can imagine a scenario where a would-be thief is chased down by a mob. Is this really the type of society we want to live in, blanketed by Amazon surveillance cameras, while also skipping due process – i.e. innocent until proven guilty?
Amazon is enabling a police surveillance state unlike anything we have ever seen before; the worst part is that many of these so-called “criminals” are petty offenders. Should minor offenders including children just playing around be subjected to being included in a suspicious user database? Is that really the type of world we want to live in, an Orwellian nightmare where everyone is watched and logged?
Fortunately for us, there is hope as Congress has recently demanded that Amazon disclose how its Ring service stores that data, while other lawmakers have called for a halt of rolling out facial recognition technology all together, Activist Post reported.
Earlier this year, legislators called for putting a “time out” on facial recognition technology until regulations are in place. So far, Congress has held two oversight hearings on the topic and there are at least four bills in the works to limit the technology.
On top of that, some cities in the U.S. have outright banned the biometric technology like San Francisco, Somerville, Massachusetts, and Oakland, California, as Activist Post reported.
The rapid growth of this technology has triggered a much-needed debate to slow down the roll out. Activists, politicians, academics and even police forces all over the world are expressing serious concerns over the impact facial recognition could have on our society.
This may be why Amazon has decided to attempt to draft facial recognition laws, as the company has a huge investment in the technology with Ring. Bezos appears ready to snuggle close to the Department Of Defense to attempt to get on the good side of the government for whatever those reasons may be, whether it’s Amazon’s tax status or business opportunities. The underlying reason doesn’t really matter; what matters is that Amazon is willing to help the Pentagon and local police achieve a true fascist surveillance state to the detriment of all American citizens.
Image credit: ProPublica
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