Amazon Accused of Breaching Russian Sanctions with Facial Recognition Technology

A former employee has accused Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) of violating UK sanctions by allegedly providing Moscow with its facial recognition technology following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The accusation, made by Charles Forrest, forms part of his evidence in a legal claim against his former employer, Amazon Web Services (AWS), which the company is contesting. The case was heard in a preliminary hearing at the central London employment tribunal this week.

Forrest, who worked at AWS for four years until 2023, alleges he was unfairly dismissed after blowing the whistle on several issues between November 2022 and May 2023. Among these, he claims Amazon sold its Rekognition facial recognition technology to VisionLabs, a Russian company, via a shell company based in the Netherlands in 2020. This transaction purportedly took place before Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, but Forrest claims the technology continued to be used post-invasion.

Amazon has denied these allegations, with a spokesperson stating: “Based on available evidence and billing records, AWS did not sell Amazon Rekognition services to VisionLabs.”

Forrest’s allegations are serious, as they suggest a breach of the UK’s sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. These sanctions are aimed at limiting Russia’s access to advanced technologies that could enhance its military and surveillance capabilities.

Violating the self-imposed moratorium

The ex-AWS employee’s legal claim also involves allegations that Amazon violated its self-imposed moratorium on selling facial recognition technology to police forces. This moratorium was established after the murder of George Floyd in the US, reflecting growing concerns over the potential misuse of such technology in law enforcement.

Forrest asserts that despite this moratorium, UK police continued to use AWS’s Rekognition to process mugshots and identify perpetrators of crimes. Amazon has refuted these claims, with a company statement noting: “A self-imposed moratorium does not amount to a legal obligation.”

According to tribunal filings, Amazon maintains that Forrest was dismissed for “gross misconduct,” citing his failure to work his contractual hours and to attend or respond to multiple meetings and emails. The company argues that Forrest did not make any protected disclosures and disputes the validity of his claims regarding international sanctions and the sale of facial recognition technology to police forces.

“We believe the claims lack merit and look forward to demonstrating that through the legal process,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

The use of facial recognition technology, particularly by state actors, has been a contentious issue. In Moscow, such technology has been reportedly used to suppress dissent against Russian President Vladimir Putin, raising concerns about privacy and human rights abuses.

A spokesperson for VisionLabs stated: “We have never been involved in any contractual relationships with Amazon,” further complicating the narrative presented by Forrest.

Information for this briefing was found via Financial Times, The Telegraph, and the sources mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to this organization. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

Leave a Reply