Whistleblower claims Amazon violated UK sanctions by selling facial recognition tech to Russia

An ex-employee has accused Amazon of breaching UK sanctions by selling facial recognition technology to Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine, The Financial Times reported.

Charles Forrest alleged that he was unfairly dismissed in 2023 after accusing Amazon of wrongdoing on a number of issues between November 2022 and May 2023, according to the article. The allegations were presented to a London employment tribunal as part of a hearing this week.

Forrest said that Amazon closed a deal with Russian firm VisionLabs to provide access to its Rekognition facial recognition technology. It did that “through what appears to be a shell company based in the Netherlands,” according to the tribunal filings. He also accused the company of breaking its self-imposed moratorium on police use of facial recognition tech implemented after the murder of George Floyd.

Amazon denied the allegations. “We believe the claims lack merit and look forward to demonstrating that through the legal process,” a spokesperson told the FT. “Based on available evidence and billing records, AWS did not sell Amazon Rekognition services to VisionLabs.”

Forrest was let go for “gross misconduct” after refusing to work his contractual hours and failed to respond to emails or attend meetings, Amazon alleged. It denied that Forrest made the sorts of disclosures that would entitle him to whistleblower protections.

Amazon has denied the contention it provided police with facial recognition technology, and added in a tribunal filing that “a self-imposed moratorium does not amount to a legal obligation.”

Update, June 7 2024, 11:14AM ET: An Amazon spokesperson clarified that the company is denying it provided facial recognition capabilities to police, and the last paragraph of this story has been changed to reflect that. The company remains adamant it did not sell that same software to VisionLabs but has declined to provide a statement related to whether VisionLabs obtained those capabilities through an intermediary.

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