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Amazon may be violating law for providing technology to Chinese military firms

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A joint investigation conducted by National Review and surveillance and security research group IVPM, reveals Amazon may be violating a law which prohibits federal contractors from doing business with specific Chinese firms.

Amazon has maintained it is in full compliance with the law, but its business relationships with Chinese surveillance giants Hikvision and Dahua may be violating the law. “Specifically, the Seattle-based tech giant might be running afoul of a provision in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act barring contracts with firms that use certain Chinese surveillance hardware or software” reports National Review.

“One potentially significant issue is that Amazon Web Services simultaneously provides cloud Internet services to the U.S. National Security Agency and Hikvision, which the U.S. government designated as a Chinese military-industrial complex company last year” the article continues.

Conor Healy, IPVM’s director of government research, said: “Facing a clear threat to federal networks, Congress drew a line in the sand for its contractors: if you do business with Hikvision or Dahua, you can’t do business with the federal government.”

“Amazon seems determined to do the opposite. It is actively facilitating and incubating the very threat Congress sought to mitigate” Healy added.

As for specifics on the two companies, National Review reports:

In 2019, Hikvision and Dahua were both blacklisted by the Commerce Department for their extensive work with the authorities in Xinjiang, as the Chinese Communist Party built out a sophisticated police state to systematically target ethnic minorities in the region.

Dahua sells cameras that can identify Uyghur faces, with an alarm that goes off when they are in view. The company characterizes this as a smart-policing feature to detect “real-time Uyghur warnings” and “hidden terrorist inclinations.” Hikvision, in addition to providing cameras used in Xinjiang prison camps, sells “tiger chair” torture and interrogation systems, among other things. Hikvision also has a well-documentedrelationship with the Chinese military, providing the People’s Liberation Army air force with drone jammers, and pitching its technology as key to improving missile and tank systems.

However, none of that information nor behavior has stopped Amazon from providing services to the two surveillance firms. “Both of the Chinese firms offer streaming services that allow their customers to view video feeds from their cameras remotely, all of which are hosted on Amazon Web Services — the cloud Internet platform that last year secured the renewal of a $10 billion contract with the NSA.”

According to a Hikvision-commissioned cybersecurity audit conducted by FTI Consulting and submitted to the Federal Communications Commission last November, “Hikvision uses numerous Internet Service Providers within the United States for all Hik-Connect traffic,” including Amazon Web Services, other Amazon service providers, and servers provided by Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent.

Additionally, Amazon hosts several online stores operated by wholly owned subsidiaries of Hikvision and Dahua. IPVM describes them as well developed, based on the number of products that each store offers, the sophisticated nature of the marketing surrounding them, and hundreds of “verified purchaser” reviews.

“This means Amazon’s $10 billion NSA contract may be illegal, but first federal authorities must clarify the scope of the NDAA ban and investigate Amazon’s actions,” Healy said. “As things stand, due to the law’s imprecise language, the legality of Amazon’s actions may come down to something as trivial as whether or not they have plugged one of these devices in.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been very critical of Amazon after the company bought the Dahua cameras that can identify Uyghur faces. (Amazon says that it procured Dahua thermal cameras in 2020 to conduct temperature checks as a response to the pandemic and that it has not bought any Dahua cameras for its facilities since the middle of that year.)

“No one should be surprised,” the Florida Republican told NR in a statement. “This type of behavior is par for the course for a company that prioritizes short-term profit above all else, including the health and well-being of its employees. Amazon loves to preach woke values, but it appears to have no problem seemingly breaking U.S. law — and putting federal, state, and local agencies in the position of doing the same — while doing business with a genocidal, oppressive regime.”

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