Google employees call to end to all police tech contracts

A letter with the headline “No Police Contracts” was addressed to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.
25 June 2020

The relationship between big tech and law enforcement is in focus. Source: Shutterstock

  • The use of facial recognition technology has sparked debates among civilians and experts 
  • Tech giants are calling for regulations in the use of facial recognition technology 

A growing number of Google employees are calling for the tech giant to end the sale of the company’s technology to law enforcement. A letter with the headline “No Police Contracts” was written to the Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai. 

“The past weeks have shown us that addressing racism is not merely an issue of words, but of actions taken to dismantle the actual structures that perpetuate it,” the letter reads.

“While we as individuals hold difficult but necessary conversations with our family, friends, and peers, we are also incredibly disappointed by our company’s response.”

The letter highlights Google’s cloud contract with the Clarkstown Police Department, which has been sued multiple times for illegal surveillance of Black Lives Matter organizers. Google is also a partner and donor to the Seattle police foundation as reported in TechCrunch; additionally, its capital arm GV has invested in startups developing AI-based technology for police. 

This isn’t the first time Google employees have pressured the company to stop projects. In 2018, the tech giant’s employee petitioned to stop the renewal of a satellite image-based defense contract, known as Project Maven. Subsequently, Google pulled out of a big cloud computing contract with the Pentagon. 

Recent weeks have shown that leading tech companies have abandoned and restricted the use of next-gen technology in police departments. IBM’s CEO announced the firm had stopped its development of facial recognition technology and also called for a “national dialogue” on how the technology is employed by law enforcement. 

Days later, retail giant Amazon imposed a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial recognition technology. The company’s blog post writes, “We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge.” 

Microsoft joined the list, with the tech company declaring it wouldn’t currently provide facial recognition technology to the police, at least not until there are federal laws regulating the technology. CEO of Microsoft Satya Nadella also laid out plans to increase the number of black managers and senior leaders in the US by double over the next five years. Senior executives would be evaluated for promotion and rewards based on their progress advancing diversity and inclusion

Collectively, the tech giants’ announcements are not striking off the possibility that it may sell the tech to law enforcement but are calling for regulations to be in place first. In response to George Floyd’s death, Pichai said the company would provide US$12 million to organizations working to address racial inequities. 

“Our Black community is hurting, and many of us are searching for ways to stand up for what we believe, and reach out to people we love to show solidarity,” noted in an email to Google employees. 

“We discussed many ideas, and we are working through where to put our energy and resources in the weeks and months ahead,” Pichai continued, “We’ll work closely with our Black community to develop initiatives and product ideas that support long-term solutions—and we’ll keep you updated. As part of this effort, we welcome your ideas on how to use our products and technology to improve access and opportunity.”