Amazon Echo and the CIA
This research article investigates to what extent Amazon is connected to the CIA. Amazon signed a $600 million cloud computing contract with the CIA in 2013. Amazon is close to a $10 billion contract to build an AI cloud system that will aid the US military in future data collection for war. Amazon seems willing to break rules to fix further contracts in their favour. Amazon Echo’s Alexa is on and listening to our homes all day, but is it spying on us and what is the solution?
March 2017 and a woman posts a video on YouTube of her asking her Amazon Echo if it is connected to the CIA. The device normally provides a response to anything you ask, but every time she asks, the device turns off.
Fortune published an article with the initial video that went viral and the email statement issued by Amazon that “This was a technical glitch which we have fixed.”
Amazon released an update to the device so that Alexa replied “No. I work for Amazon” but further YouTube uploads show the device continued to shut down when asked “Does Amazon work for the CIA?” or “Is the CIA listening to this?”
The following research explores whether Amazon, and more specifically Alexa, is connected to the CIA.
In March 2013, it was announced that Amazon had won the battle with IBM to sign a cloud computing contract with the CIA worth $600 million over 10 years.
In June 2013, WIRE stated that “Amazon’s invasion of the CIA” is “seismic” as the contract involves building cloud services inside CIA data centres as a “private cloud.”
Today Amazon has built the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud service with “over 5,000 government agencies using AWS,” including the governments of the USA, the UK, and with the Australian government signing on in January 2019.
The Huffington Post explained back in 2014 why this is so ominous, stating that obtaining vast quantities of customer information “has been central to the firm’s business model” but “Amazon now has the means, motive and opportunity to provide huge amounts of customer information to its new business partner.”
Amazon is now hoping for a second 10-year contract; this time to build the US military’s first ‘war cloud‘ computing system; a contract worth $10 billion.
The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud service will store and process vast amounts of classified data, allowing the Pentagon to use artificial intelligence to speed up war planning and fighting capabilities.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) was supposed to declare the contract winner in August 2019, but Oracle cloud services launched a lawsuit against the DoD, claiming the DoD’s contract was rigged and “virtually gift-wrapped for Amazon’s AWS.”
Oracle’s mildly redacted 50-page filing also accuses Amazon of breaking the rules by hiring two senior DoD staff involved in the JEDI procurement process, one of whom is described as “lead PM.”
A 2018 Public Sector Summit video featured on Amazon’s AWS website, shows the CIA’s Associate Deputy Director of Digital Innovation, Sean Roche, speak on the benefits of moving to Amazon’s cloud service; Roche is introduced onto the stage by Amazon Echo’s Alexa.
In June, 2013, The Washington Post and The Guardian began publishing leaked documents from NSA employee Edward Snowdon on the global top secret mass surveillance programs tracking foreign nationals and US citizens.
First we learnt about PRISM, a secret surveillance program allowing the NSA to use corporate partnerships to extract audio, video, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs, enabling analysts to track people’s movements.
Further 2007 and 2008 documents revealed that 5 Eyes (FVEY), the spy agencies of the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have been secretly sharing the data they collect about ordinary citizens for at least a decade.
The Snowdon revelations led to The Washington Post and The Guardian winning the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, and the journalists winning Long Island University’s George Polk Award for “National Security Reporting.”
It is well-known that mass surveillance does not promote health and happiness (wellness); it promotes fear and suspicion.
The right to privacy is explicitly stated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and most countries have some form of Human Rights Act based on the premise that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence.”
We do not know if Amazon’s Echo device, Alexa, is providing information about Echo users to CIA servers, but we do know that Amazon is connected to the CIA, that government spy agencies are gathering information about us, that Amazon is very willing to work with US spy agencies and break rules to fix contracts in their favour, and that the Amazon Echo is on and listening to us and our homes all day.
The solution is simple. If we value the right to privacy, and if we cannot trust Amazon to keep our personal data private, then it is clearly safer to keep Alexa out of our homes.
We can choose a different narrative. The simple solution to the ongoing infiltration of our personal and private information is Cybersecurity.
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