Suspend UBC's partnership with Amazon Web Services!

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Immigration raids, family separation, and concentration camps? NO DEAL!

In July 2019, the University of British Columbia suddenly announced a partnership with Amazon Web Services, which, via data-mining company Palantir, provides “the backbone infrastructure” for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). UBC and Amazon plan to open Canada's first Cloud Innovation Centre (CIC) on our campus in January 2020.

This partnership was announced without any community consultation process, and the terms of the agreement have not been made public. Many community members were quick to denounce it, calling for “a lively, substantial debate on this issue that includes students and faculty and staff.”

Meanwhile, in the US, Amazon employees themselves are demanding the company stop working with ICE. Protesters against ICE interrupted an Amazon conference in New York and demonstrated outside CEO Jeff Bezos’s new Manhattan apartment. Never Again Action and other Jewish groups are staging bold #JewsAgainstICE protests at Amazon stores and detention centers across the country, facing mass arrests.

COMPLICIT IN CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

Many scholars, like Holocaust survivors and their descendants, compare the current situation in the US to Nazi Germany during the 1930s — before the concentration camps became death camps.

But people have already died, many as a result of medical neglect, inadequate care, and unsanitary conditions. As far as we know, at least 24 have lost their lives in ICE custody under the Trump administration, while others have died shortly after being released. Infectious diseases run rampant, basic hygiene is limited, bedding is inadequate, drinking water is contaminated, and food is infested with maggots.

In addition, several thousands of children have been separated from their parents and other family members, without any plans for reunification. This is causing irreversible lifelong trauma and leaves the children vulnerable to further abuse.

The number of people being held in ICE’s 200 adult detention centers is now up to 54,000. But dangerously severe overcrowding has not prevented ICE from using Amazon technology to carry out further immigration raids, including a massive round-up of more than 680 people in Mississippi on August 7.

Americans have been forced to band together and physically protect their friends and neighbors from ICE agents who are relying on Amazon technology. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls it nothing less than “war against immigrant families and the communities in which they live.”

ICE's actions may be seen as part of a broader offensive against Latinx immigrants and visitors, as well as US citizens of Latinx descent. Targeting them for harassment and dehumanization encourages further violence, such as the August 3 massacre in El Paso.

OUR HEALTH, THEIR DATA

UBC administrators may claim that the university’s partnership with Amazon Web Services is justified because of the proposed Cloud Innovation Centre’s focus on community health and well-being. They may argue that the advantages of having access to Amazon’s technology and expertise, and applying them to community health issues, outweigh the drawbacks of implicitly supporting ICE. Besides, they may suggest, it’s not as though UBC is directly engaged in a partnership with ICE.

Nevertheless, even without knowing the specific terms and conditions of the partnership (for example, how much money UBC will spend on Amazon infrastructure), it’s clear that the university will be complicit with human rights abuses that substantially and irrevocably harm the health and well-being of innumerable communities. At best, the university will be helping Amazon to whitewash its involvement in ICE’s crimes; at worst, UBC will be helping Amazon more effectively collect exactly the kind of data it uses to commit these crimes, and even training employees to assist in carrying them out.

What exactly will Amazon Web Services do with all the data it gathers on UBC students, including immigrants and members of other vulnerable groups? What will happen when these students travel to the US? What if the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) ramps up its own attacks against immigrants here? Amazon manages “a vast ecosystem of public and private data to track down immigrants and, in many cases, deport them.” Aside from health data, this includes “immigration history, family relationships, personal connections, addresses, phone records, biometric traits, and other information.”

Associate-Provost Simon Bates cites UBC’s data governance program as a safeguard. But recent events on campus have shown that the administration has little regard for its own statements and policies.

Bates also claims that “this partnership is very much ‘opt-in’ for students and faculty who want to get involved with the CIC.” But it seems likely that there are thousands of us who will gladly tick a box that UBC is actively encouraging us to tick, handing our personal information over to a trusted university partner, without fully reading and comprehending the full terms and conditions — raising concerns about informed consent. After all, many of us already interact with Amazon Web Services through UBC's Canvas learning management system, and don't even know it.

OUR VALUES ARE NOT AMAZON’S

There's certainly no shortage of other reasons to oppose UBC’s partnership with Amazon as well. As a member of Students Against Bigotry told The Ubyssey, there’s “the obscene amount of wealth [Amazon] generates for Jeff Bezos, how much public funding it receives, how little it pays in taxes, the awful working conditions and job security of warehouse staff, selling visual recognition software to police that discriminates against people of colour” — not to mention Amazon’s disastrous environmental practices.  Ultimately, “it’s pretty clear to us that this company absolutely does not deserve a home on our campus.”

For all these reasons and more, we find this partnership with Amazon Web Services morally reprehensible, and we refuse to simply accept it. UBC has hosted a startling number of objectionable guests on its campus in the past few years, but it's apparent that Amazon is in a league all its own.

In short, working with Amazon Web Services is obviously NOT in the best interest of community health and well-being. Not in our community, not in immigrant communities in the US, and certainly not in concentration camps run for profit by private prison companies.

When these concentration camps are finally shut down, we would like to be able to look back and say that UBC was on the right side of history — part of the solution rather than the problem.

OUR DEMANDS

Therefore we, the undersigned, make the following 5 demands:

  1. Immediately and indefinitely suspend UBC’s partnership with Amazon Web Services (pending the outcome of #3).
  2. Publish the full terms and conditions of this partnership.
  3. Conduct an extensive process of thorough community consultation regarding this partnership, with ample opportunity for meaningful engagement by students, faculty, and staff from across the university. Discussion must include the very feasible possibility of permanently terminating the partnership altogether.
  4. Conduct a similar consultation process before any major partnership in the future, and promptly publish of the terms and conditions of any such partnership.
  5. Have the Board of Governors adopt a clear policy on university partnerships and the required consultation processes moving forward.

Please sign our petition, help spread the word, and join the growing international movement for immigrants’ human rights — and against Amazon and ICE!

#NeverAgainIsNow #NoDealWithAmazon #NoTechForICE