NYC activists disrupt keynote speaker at Amazon Web Services conference

On Thursday morning, July 11, hundreds of immigration activists at the Javits Center in Manhattan blocked traffic and interrupted an annual conference of Amazon Web Services (AWS). More than two dozen protesters made their way inside and disrupted a keynote speech being given by Amazon Chief Technology Officer Werner Vogels five times, before they were guided out.

Groups involved included Make the Road NY, who on the Policing and Criminal Justice page of their website declare that they are “Fighting to end police violence and the criminalization of black and brown New Yorkers”, and New York Communities for Change, who on their Issues page declare that they want to “unite working people” and others to “take back capital from the 1% that siphons enormous amounts of wealth at the expense of workers across the world.”

The protesters cited reports published over the past couple of years claiming that Amazon Web Services provides "cloud computing" technology and infrastructure for several companies that work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Palantir Technologies software is the target of immigration activist wrath

A data mining company called Palantir Technologies is at the center of the accusations. In 2014, Palantir was awarded by ICE a $41 million contract to build and maintain a system called Investigative Case Management (ICM), which grants access to intelligence platforms maintained by various federal and private law enforcement entities.

An investigative report published in 2017 found that ICM enables ICE agents to create detailed profiles used to track immigrants, and sometimes to deport them. Data might include immigration history, family relationships, personal contacts, addresses, phone records, and even information such as biometric traits.

The entire ICM system, software and data, was migrated to Amazon Web Services, and Palantir Technologies is paying Amazon approximately $600,000 a month for their services. Palantir had good reasons for choosing AWS. For the government contract to be secured, ICM had to meet the requirements of the FedRAMP program, which verifies that cloud providers offer a level of security appropriate for the processing, storing, and transmittal of government data. An online government database is said to show that Amazon holds the largest share, 22%, of FedRAMP authorizations, and that Amazon holds 62% of FedRAMP High Impact Level authorizations, which is the customary requirement for law enforcement systems.