OPINION: Project Nimbus poses ethical questions

Apr 18, 2024 | OP-ED, Opinion

Google’s New York office witnessed an unusual sight on April 16, when some employees and others staged a sit-in protest at the company office against the tech giants’ work with Israel.

At the heart of the protest is the joint US$1.2 billion contract between Google and Amazon with Israel called Project Nimbus.

Under the contract, the two companies provide cloud services to the Israeli government and set up data centres in Israel, as reported by The Times of Israel in a 2021 report.

The contract was signed the same week Israel attacked the Gaza Strip that year, causing the deaths of about 250 people including more than 60 children, as reported by Al Jazeera in 2021.

The anonymous letter by workers of Google and Amazon published in The Guardian in 2021 states the technology can subject Palestinians to increased surveillance and illegal data collection.

Amazon and Google employees have been protesting the ethical and humanitarian implications of such a partnership and their concerns may not be unfounded.

Time Magazine reported on April 12, 2024, that the cloud computing services are also being used by the Israeli Ministry of Defense, based on its access to a company document.

Under the Project Nimbus contract, Google and Amazon cannot intervene in the use of their technology by specific Israeli entities. The companies are also contractually bound to continue the partnership despite any mounting pressures to boycott their relations with Israel.

Time magazine also cited a report by +972 Magazine alleging that Israel is possibly using the cloud computing infrastructure for an AI-powered system to conduct air strikes on Gaza.

Owing to issues of national security, the company document accessed by Times does not specify the purpose of cloud computing applications by IDF.

The ethical concerns of this partnership are twofold: the question of the responsibility of technology moguls for the unchallenged use of their technology by sovereign states, and where we draw a line between state security measures and the potential for human rights abuse.

The lack of transparency in the works of the contract perpetuates a lack of accountability.

As Palestine’s humanitarian crises continue to grow, the complicity of these corporations also becomes integral.

The employees of Google and Amazon have expressed concern over the partnership’s opacity and the threat of potential misuse of the technology to further Israel’s expansionist agenda into Palestine.

Nimbus poses invasive challenges to the right to privacy and dangerously blurs the line between national security and exacerbation of power disparities. It sets a precedent for other nations and other companies, legitimizing surveillance and propagating oppression.

Without a robust oversight mechanism, those with power will continue to have a disproportionate influence over the ethics of the world, or lack thereof.

The protesters at the Google office were arrested, but the struggle against human rights violations must continue.