The world's biggest online retailer, Amazon, keeps expanding. A few months ago, the company signed a $600 million contract with the Central Intelligence Agency to provide "cloud computing" services. An official statement from Amazon headquarters declared, "We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA."
Amazon maintains a humongous trove of detailed information about hundreds of millions of people. Are we to believe that the CIA and other intelligence agencies have no interest in Amazon's data?
Even at face value, Amazon's "privacy notice" has loopholes big enough to fly a drone through. It reads: "We release account and other personal information when we believe release is appropriate to comply with the law; enforce or apply our Conditions of Use and other agreements; or protect the rights, property, or safety of Amazon.com, our users, or others."
Amazon now averages 162 million unique visitors to its site every month. Meanwhile, the CIA depends on gathering and analyzing data to serve U.S. military interventions overseas.
During the last dozen years, the CIA has conducted ongoing drone strikes and covert lethal missions in many countries. At the same time, U.S. agencies like the CIA and NSA have flattened many of the previous obstacles to their worst Big Brother tendencies.
Amazon is, potentially, much more vulnerable to public outrage and leverage than the typical firms that make a killing from contracts with the NSA or the CIA or the Pentagon. Every day, Amazon is depending on millions of customers to go online and buy products from its sites. As more people learn about its work with the CIA, Amazon could—and should—suffer consequences. Movement in that direction began with the Feb. 20 launch of a RootsAction.org petition addressed to Amazon's founder and CEO Jeff Bezos: "We urge you to make a legally binding commitment to customers that Amazon will not provide customer data to the Central Intelligence Agency."
The people who run Amazon figured they could rake in big profits from the CIA without serious public blowback. We have an opportunity to prove them wrong.
Norman Solomon is cofounder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He lives in Marin County. Open Mic is a weekly feature in the 'Bohemian.' We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write email@example.com.