A new Reuters investigation published Wednesday has exposed an Amazon-China bombshell, but which perhaps should come as little surprise. Chinese tech utilized in the communist state's own deeply controversial repressive surveillance network monitoring citizens for signs of 'dissent' will now come to an Amazon warehouse near you:
Amazon.com Inc has bought cameras to take temperatures of workers during the coronavirus pandemic from a firm the United States blacklisted over allegations it helped China detain and monitor the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
China’s Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co Ltd shipped 1,500 cameras to Amazon this month in a deal valued close to $10 million, one of the people said. At least 500 systems from Dahua - the blacklisted firm - are for Amazon’s use in the United States, another person said.
While a US Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security has 'red flagged' the procurement, it's not ultimately considered illegal or a punishable violation of federal law, given the current blacklisting of select Chinese surveillance tech firms doesn't stop the private sector from obtaining their products.
Current law only applies to federal agencies and government contracts, which it should be noted have recently been caught 'inadvertently' violating their own protocol in some instances.
However, Amazon which also happens to be a major US intelligence community contractor regarding its cloud technology, hinted in a brief statement that its justification for rolling out with the controversial Chinese technology is all about 'fighting the coronavirus pandemic' amid a national shortage of domestic temperature monitoring devices.
Amazon said simply that it continues to “support the health and safety of our employees, who continue to provide a critical service in our communities” and that all of its procurement conforms to federal, state, and local law. But there's an obvious Orwellian 'creepy factor' in terms of how Dahua's cameras work, and the fact that Amazon has confirmed the thermal imagers will be erected at “multiple” manufacturer sites.
To see if someone has a fever, Dahua’s camera compares a person’s radiation to a separate infrared calibration device. It uses face detection technology to track subjects walking by and make sure it is looking for heat in the right place.
An additional recording device keeps snapshots of faces the camera has spotted and their temperatures, according to a demonstration of the technology in San Francisco. Optional facial recognition software can fetch images of the same subject across time to determine, for instance, who a virus patient may have been near in a line for temperature checks.
Amazon denied that it will activate the facial recognition in its thermal cameras, however:
Amazon said it is not using facial recognition on any of its thermal cameras. Civil liberties groups have warned the software could strip people of privacy and lead to arbitrary apprehensions if relied on by police.
"We implemented daily temperature checks in our operations locations as an additional preventative measure to support the health and safety of our employees, who continue to provide a critical service in our communities. We are now implementing the use of thermal imagers from multiple manufacturers for temperature screening to create a more streamlined experience for our employees," the company told The Hill.
"None of this equipment has network connectivity, and no personal identifiable information will be visible, collected, or stored," it sought to reassure.
Though the convenient rationale at this point appears to be that manufacturers and understaffed warehouses must “preemptively prepare for their workforce coming back,” it remains the dangerous pattern is once certain cutting edge but legally and morally questionable technology gets put in place, there's no going back.
And then there's this ever-pressing concern, that: U.S. authorities have also worried that equipment makers like Dahua could hide a technical “back door” to Chinese government agents seeking intelligence, according to the Reuters report.