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Jeff Bezos
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Big tech should continue to play a key role in national defense, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said, painting the work as integral to protecting democracy.

Tech giants have experienced internal opposition to building technology for national defense. However, Bezos said, senior leadership teams have to make tough decisions, even when they’re unpopular.

“My view is that if big tech is turning their back on the Department of Defense, this country is in big trouble. That just can’t happen,” Bezos said at an annual defense forum at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Bezos’s comments echo past statements, however they come at a time of increased scrutiny on the technology industry’s relationship to law enforcement and national defense. Amazon has been under the microscope for a number of different products recently, including its facial recognition software and Ring’s contract with law enforcement agencies.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has made similar arguments when defending his company’s work with defense agencies. Microsoft earlier this year drew internal opposition to a $480 million contract to outfit the U.S. Army with 100,000 HoloLens headsets.

“We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy,” Nadella said in an interview with CNN at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona in February.

Microsoft and Amazon were finalists for the 10-year, $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract to build out cloud infrastructure for the Pentagon. Microsoft was awarded the contract last month, a surprise to many observers who pegged Amazon as the front-runner.

Amazon is protesting the decision. According to documents unsealed last week, Amazon is asking the court to block the Pentagon from moving forward with Microsoft and seeking a mandate that the government re-open the bidding process “to make a new best value determination.”

Bezos’ comments and Amazon’s push to re-open JEDI bidding indicate that tech giant will continue its work with defense agencies.

“I know it’s complicated, but do you want a strong national defense or don’t you,” Bezos said at the forum. “I think you do, so we have to support that.”

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