WASHINGTON — Silicon Valley may have heard the lament of the nation’s top military officer, who recently implored U.S. companies to work with the Pentagon and not just the Chinese.
In a letter released Tuesday, Google employees said the company must cease work on a search engine for the government of China over concerns it will assist Bejing in state surveillance efforts. The project’s working name is Dragonfly.
“We are Google employees. Google must drop Dragonfly,” the letter headline says.
The letter, which bore the names of 90 employees, comes less than two weeks after Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said those shunning working with the Pentagon over concerns the work may turn into weapons may want to examine their work with Beijing.
“I just have a simple expression: We are the good guys,” Dunford said then.
Dunford did not name any company but he was referring to Google. In June Google announced it would not renew its contract with a Pentagon artificial intelligence program involving drones, called Project Maven, after protests from employees.
That program is designed to use artificial intelligence to comb surveillance video footage and make it more useful more quickly.
That seems to be a similar circumstance with Dragonfly.
The opposition by some Google employees follows concerns voiced by Amnesty International about Dragonfly.
“Dragonfly would also enable censorship and government-directed disinformation, and destabilize the ground truth on which popular deliberation and dissent rely,” the letter said. “Given the Chinese government’s reported suppression of dissident voices, such controls would likely be used to silence marginalized people, and favor information that promotes government interests.”
The employees said Beijing is ramping up its surveillance capabilities as part of increased population control via “advanced technologies, and combine online activity, personal records, and mass monitoring to track and profile citizens.” Helping the Chinese government get better access to data “would make Google complicit in oppression and human rights abuses,” the letter said.
Dunford did not respond to requests for comment.