Amazon Accused of Breaching Sanctions on Russia Selling Facial Recognition Technology

Facial Recognition Tech

Amazon breached British sanctions on Russia by supplying facial recognition technology to Moscow, a former employee has alleged.

The claim, made by ex-worker Charles Forrest, asserts that Amazon Web Services (AWS) was involved in the “illegal supply of facial recognition technology to the Russian state security services.”

Russia has been sanctioned by the UK since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Mr. Forrest’s allegation, first reported by the Financial Times, includes the claim that AWS’s Rekognition facial recognition technology was sold to VisionLabs, a company owned by Russian telecom company MTS. He has taken the company to a tribunal, alleging unfair dismissal.

He contends that Amazon sold facial recognition technology in 2020 to VisionLabs and that the technology was subsequently used by authorities in Moscow following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Facial Recognition Tech – Amazon

Amazon denies that Forrest was unfairly dismissed or that it sold the technology to the company. The company stated, “Based on available evidence and billing records, AWS did not sell Amazon Rekognition services to VisionLabs.”

The allegations were made in legal submissions during a preliminary hearing for Mr. Forrest’s unfair dismissal case at the central London employment tribunal.

AWS is Amazon’s cloud computing division and one of the largest parts of billionaire founder Jeff Bezos’s empire.

The Rekognition software has often been used by US police forces, prompting concerns about privacy intrusions. In 2019, some of Amazon’s campaigning shareholders tried to block the sale of the technology, which campaigners called “perhaps the most dangerous surveillance technology ever developed.” They were defeated.

Facial Recognition Tech – Amazon

Some of VisionLabs’ technology has also reportedly been deployed by transport authorities on the Moscow metro and has been in place since the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It was reported that facial recognition technology in Moscow has aided suppression of dissent against President Putin.

Mr. Forrest worked for Amazon Web Services between 2019 and May 2023. He claims he was unfairly dismissed by the company after raising the alarm from 2022 until his dismissal a year later.

Amazon claims he was fired for gross misconduct after he refused to work the hours demanded in his contract.

Mr. Forrest also claims that Amazon sold the facial recognition technology to UK police forces, despite the company instituting a one-year ban on the practice following the murder of George Floyd.

Amazon denied it breached any legal obligations on the matter.

An Amazon spokesperson said, “We believe the claims lack merit and look forward to demonstrating that through the legal process.” A VisionLabs spokesperson said, “We have never been involved in any contractual relationships with Amazon.”

Mason Williams
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