On Prime Day, Activists in San Francisco Demand Amazon Cut Ties With ICE

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Activists protest outside Amazon's offices in downtown San Francisco on July 15, 2019. (Kate Wolffe/KQED)

On Prime Day, one of Amazon’s busiest shopping days, immigrant community members and labor activists in San Francisco protested the company's controversial ties with law enforcement nationwide and its labor practices.

Protesters from activist groups including Bay Resistance, San Francisco Rising and Causa Justa Just Cause gathered outside of retail giant Amazon’s downtown office on Monday, demanding the company sever ties with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement, and improve working conditions for employees.

The ACLU says Amazon partners with local law enforcement agencies across the country who use its facial recognition software, Rekognition, to solve cases.

The Daily Beast reported that in June 2018, Amazon was in talks with ICE about the agency possibly using Rekognition. The company has not previously denied that ICE uses the recognition technology; it has said the software should be better regulated by governmental agencies. ICE told KQED it couldn't comment on investigative techniques.

“Amazon shouldn’t be profiting off of people’s real pain and real lives that are being torn apart,” said Kung Feng, executive director of Jobs With Justice, who spoke at the event.


MIT Technology Review also reported last year that Amazon Web Services hosts software created by data analysis company Palantir, which ICE uses in its operations.

The San Francisco protesters tried to deliver a box of petitions to the Amazon office that urged the company to eliminate any association with ICE and to improve warehouse working conditions. Four activists attempting to deliver the petitions were barred from entering the building.

“We don’t support the use of this facial recognition technology. It’s an industry that is unregulated, and we don’t want Amazon to be making choices on our behalf in creating and using this technology,” said Beatriz Herrera, a lead organizer of San Francisco Rising.

In a statement to KQED News, Amazon spokesman said “companies and government organizations need to use existing and new technology responsibly and lawfully,” adding that “there is clearly a need for more clarity from governments on what is acceptable use of AI and ramifications for its misuse."

In May, the San Francisco City Council banned facial recognition software in the city; on Tuesday, the Oakland City Council will hear a similar resolution.

Amazon workers have previously protested the company’s ties to law enforcement, and Forbes has reported that the pressure is still on.

The San Francisco protesters were also acting in solidarity with warehouse workers in Minnesota who are calling for Amazon to ease up on what they said were intense working conditions.