Amazon's new employee-scanning cameras were reportedly bought from a firm accused of human rights violations
Amazon is one of many companies attempting to adjust its operations to the new challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. Among the efforts that the company has taken is to introduce thermal cameras that can scan warehouse workers and determine if any of them might be suffering from a fever, an early warning sign of infection. The act itself may raise privacy concerns for employees, but there's another reason to view Amazon's new surveillance system with skepticism. According to a report from Reuters, the company purchased the cameras from Dahua Technology, a Chinese firm that has been blacklisted from doing business with the United States government due to human rights violations.
According to the report, Amazon has acquired 1,500 cameras from Dahua Technology in the last month, paying close to $10 million for the surveillance technology. At least 500 of those cameras are believed to be in operation at Amazon warehouses and facilities in the United States. This is technically legal despite Dahua Technology's status on the Department of Commerce's blacklist — the federal government will not consider the company for contract awards but it doesn't prevent dealing between private sector businesses. However, the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security warns that any business done with a blacklisted company is considered to be a "red flag" and companies are advised to "proceed with caution."
The reason for Dahua Technology's status on the federal government's shit list should be enough to keep most companies from wanting to do business with it. Last year, the Trump administration listed the Chinese firm, along with a number of other companies based in China, on the Department of Commerce's "Entity List" for acting against US foreign policy interests and committing human rights violations. Dahua Technology, in particular, was implicated in the Chinese government's ongoing attempts to create a surveillance state that is used to oppress Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minority groups. More than one million Muslims have been detained by the government and placed in concentration camps, where they are treated as prisoners and effectively "brainwashed" through re-education programs. Much of the oppression of these minority groups are done through high-tech means, including surveillance cameras, like those made by Dahua Technology, and other tools that are used to track and identify them.
Amazon previously disclosed that it was using thermal cameras at its warehouses and at employee entrances at Whole Foods stores in order to scan workers for signs of fever, but the company made no mention at the time that it was doing business with Dahua Technology. Amazon has declined to comment publicly on the Reuters report that it purchased technology from the Chinese firm. According to Reuters, Amazon claimed that its hardware complies with national, state, and local law, and its cameras "support the health and safety of our employees, who continue to provide a critical service in our communities."