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Amazon gets cozier with US spy agencies

Illustration of hard drive over binary data. Leon Neal/Getty Images

Amazon is partnering with U.S. government spy agencies to offer a new computer data storage service: Amazon Web Services Secret Region. This week, the Department of Defense cleared Amazon to offer the cloud storage service for some of the "military and Pentagon's most sensitive, unclassified information."

“This further bolsters AWS as an industry leader in helping support the DoD’s critical mission in protecting our security,” Amazon said in a statement. “The AWS services support a variety of DoD workloads, including workloads containing sensitive controlled unclassified information and National Security Systems information.”

The service falls under an existing $600 million Amazon contract with intelligence agencies, according to published reports.

The new development comes as Amazon faces ongoing questions about the security of its data storage systems. Users of Amazon's cloud-based storage service were able to leave sensitive information on the system without password protection. In another case, the Defense Department exposed at least "1.8 billion posts of scraped internet content over the past eight years, including content captured from news sites, comment sections, web forums, and social media sites like Facebook."

CNN noted that virtually all of the information was publicly available, anyway. But what purpose did collecting the information serve?

Some privacy advocates are already uncomfortable with Amazon's cozy relationship with the intelligence community. They question the ability of Amazon's Alexa, for example, to spy on the public. Alexa is a digital assistant that essentially uses voice commands to retrieve information from the internet. To do it, Alexa Alexa records and archives everything users say.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group, previously raised concerns about the use of such information.

"The tricky thing about a device that’s recording data inside of your home is that you may be transmitting that recording in such a way that the government can directly collect it," Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said.

Court orders could also allow the retrieval of the data from where it is stored on Amazon servers. In that regard, what you say could be used against you.

In 2012, then-CIA Director David Petraeus boasted that "smart devices" connected to the internet could provide a wealth of information to intelligence agencies when someone is a "person of interest."

"'Transformational' is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies," Petraeus told Wired, "particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft."

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