Amazon Ramps Up Security to Head Off Project Nimbus Protests

Amazon appeared to have significantly heightened security for its New York Amazon Web Services Summit on Wednesday, two weeks after a number of activists disrupted the Washington, DC, AWS Summit in protest against Project Nimbus, Amazon and Google’s $1.2 billion cloud computing contract with the Israeli government. The clampdown in New York quelled several activists’ plans to interrupt the keynote speech from Matt Wood, the vice president for AI products at AWS.

Amazon allowed only approved individuals to attend the keynote speech. The activists, who had registered online to attend, all received emails ahead of the conference informing them that they would not be allowed into the keynote due to having too little space.

In addition, there was a heavy presence of private security guards and personnel from the New York Police Department and New York State Police at the conference. Despite being barred from the keynote, the activists did enter the building, where security confiscated posters and flyers during bag checks, which not all attendees were subjected to.

Amazon has previously said that it respects its “employees’ rights to express themselves without fear of retaliation, intimidation, or harassment,” referring to Project Nimbus protests. However, the heightened security shows that the company is taking steps in an attempt to thwart additional dissent. Google, for its part, fired 50 employees after a high-profile April protest over the company’s cloud-computing contract with the Israeli government.

The activists behind the planned keynote disruption are all organizers with No Tech for Apartheid (NOTA), a coalition of tech workers, organizers with the Muslim grassroots group MPower Change, and members of the anti-Zionist Jewish group Jewish Voices for Peace. (NOTA was created in 2021 shortly after news about Project Nimbus became public.) The group planned the Google sit-in protest and other recent actions targeting Project Nimbus.

Those intending to interrupt Wood’s keynote include Zelda Montes, a former YouTube software engineer, and Hasan Ibraheem, a former Google software engineer. Both were among the 50 Google employees fired in the spring. Jamie Kowalski, a former Amazon software employee who worked at the company for six years, Ferras Hamad, a former Meta employee who was recently fired after raising concerns about anti-Palestinian censorship, and one other tech worker, who did not publicly disclose their name, had also planned to protest.

Five other NOTA activists stood directly outside the AWS Summit, behind sets of barricades, and distributed informational flyers. They held large banners reading “Google and Amazon Workers Say: Drop Nimbus, End the Occupation, No Tech for Apartheid” and “Genocide Powered by AWS” atop an image of a Gazan neighborhood reduced to rubble.

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Photograph: Caroline Haskins