Amazon, Law Enforcement Joining Forces To Turn Your Front Door Into An Integral Part Of The Surveillance State

from the so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-frisks dept

Amazon wants you to be part of its dish network. Yes, it’s a play on words (and not a good one!). This network springs from Amazon’s Ring doorbell — the doorbell with a camera inside and a cozy relationship with law enforcement! What are your neighbors and strangers up to? Give the dirt to law enforcement and trust their better judgment!

Good times await those who find themselves looking dark or suspicious (but also suspicious because they’re dark) in front of a Ring doorbell. Have you ever wanted to be an internet celebrity, with or without your permission? Ring has you covered.

Amazon’s home surveillance company Ring is using video captured by its doorbell cameras in Facebook advertisements that ask users to identify and call the cops on a woman whom local police say is a suspected thief.

In the video, the woman’s face is clearly visible and there is no obvious criminal activity taking place. The Facebook post shows her passing between two cars. She pulls the door handle of one of the cars, but it is locked.

The video freezes on a still of the woman’s face from two different angles: “If you recognize this woman, please contact the Mountain View Police Department … please share with your neighbors,” text superimposed on the video says. In a post alongside the video, Ring urges residents of Mountain View, California to contact the police department if they recognize her…

Hmmm. I guess that’s not so much “inadvertent influencer” as it is “protagonist in a Philip K. Dick novel.” A private company, “shooting” footage using consumer products, is pitching Ring to your friends and neighbors with (possibly) one of your friends and neighbors. FIRST ONE TO CALL THE COPS WINS.

“Our township is now entirely covered by cameras,” said Captain Vincent Kerney, detective bureau commander of the Bloomfield Police Department. “Every area of town we have, there are some Ring cameras.”

Or not. YOU DON’T EVEN NEED TO CALL THE COPS. Amazon is way ahead of you. Cameras on doorbells + suspicious persons = cops just showing up and asking/demanding the footage you’ve collected.

Some police departments do more than just ask. Police in Indiana, New Jersey, California and other states have offered discounts for Ring cameras, sometimes up to $125. In some cases, those discounts come from taxpayer money.

[…]

In April, the city of Hammond, Indiana, announced it had $37,500 in funds to subsidize Ring devices — half of which came from Ring. The other $18,750 came from the city, said Steve Kellogg, Hammond police’s public information officer.

The city had 500 cameras, and in about a week, they were all sold. The city government ran more discounted programs, Kellogg said, putting out more than 600 Ring cameras in the city.

“There will be more cameras on the streets,” Kellogg said. “It’s really a no-brainer.”

Bribes subsidies are cool. But have you tried making people feel bad because they’re helping bad guys get away? It works. And it’s free.

When people in the Neighbors app aren’t being responsive, police will take to the streets and start knocking on doors asking for footage in person. People are a lot more cooperative when an officer is at their doorsteps asking for Ring footage, he said. Civil advocates argue that people don’t really have a choice.

“You change how you drive when you see a cop driving next to you. What if a cop shows up at your door and asks you for something?” [ACLU staff attorney Mohammad] Tajsar said. “Even if you’re the biggest civil libertarian, you will feel compelled to turn that footage over.”

Law enforcement requests are easy to reject in theory. In person, they’re a bit more difficult. But this is the ecosystem Amazon is building. Most of us still associate Amazon with free shipping and VOD, but the company really wants a piece of the government action. Whatever it hasn’t tied up in hosting and storage, it’s looking to collect via surveillance tech. Amazon is selling as much facial recognition software as it can to law enforcement agencies — despite recent controversies — and now it’s hoping its home products will attract more subsidized deployments. Local law enforcement provides the public with cheap or free doorbell cameras and swings by for the footage whenever needed. Who isn’t going to feel obligated to hand this over to the cops when they come asking?

As the EFF’s Dave Maass points out, if cops wanted to outfit a ton of homes with surveillance cameras they could access at any time, there would be some pushback. But frame it as a giveaway with an eye on home security, and people will gladly sign up to turn Everytown, USA into London.

Both Amazon and law enforcement make it clear no one is obligated to turn their front doors into tools of the surveillance state. Amazon’s end user agreement does not require users hand over footage to officers. But put a few officers on a customer’s doorstep and the calculus of consent changes. How many Americans are going to choose their own doorstep to die on in a civil liberties battle with cops over footage of suspicious people/vehicles possibly collected by the private company’s camera they have aimed at the street?

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Comments on “Amazon, Law Enforcement Joining Forces To Turn Your Front Door Into An Integral Part Of The Surveillance State”

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55 Comments
Jason says:

If a person didn’t want to just hand over video to police any time they came asking, but was also inclined to provide video they might have recorded in the interests of furthering the investigation into a crime, what would be the best way to proceed?

If (say) my neighbors had a break-in and the police asked me for any footage because events were in view of my porch camera, I wouldn’t have a problem with it, as such. But I wouldn’t necessarily want to just give it to them, either.

My only thought would be to say I’d be happy to produce a copy but, for my own protection, they should come back with an appropriate warrant. Once that happens I’d provide the video they were asking for.

To me that seems like a reasonable way to thread that particular needle. In theory, at least.

btr1701 (profile) says:

In the video, the woman’s face is clearly visible and there is no obvious criminal activity taking place.

Maybe not right there, but perhaps she fits the description other crime victims have given of their perpetrator. The fact that she’s doing nothing wrong at the moment the pic was taken doesn’t mean she isn’t a legitimate suspect for crimes in the area. (And her walking along trying the doors to cars says they’re probably on the right track with her.)

bobob says:

Can those cameras be easily damaged with a laser pointer? If not, there is always spray paint. Or for a little fun first, get some friends dressed in dark robes (or as aliens), run out into the street, hold a little ritual and then scatter.

If I find a neighbor with one of those things, I’m going to set up a lamp from an old DLP TV and blind the camera.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Probably not. But you can screw with them:

The Ring doorbell, and probably all the others, only record video when they detect motion. The Ring doorbell is particularly sensitive to motion and will pick up small movement from across the street. When they record video (I believe it’s 30 seconds to either side of the detected motion) they upload the video to Amazon’s cloud storage service which requires a subscription fee.

Because the motion detection is so sensitive (only the Ring Pro allows you to customize the area within the field of view in which motion will be detected) and storage of the recorded segments requires a subscription fee, many with Ring doorbells will have disabled motion detection and video upload. However, for those who haven’t, you can get some mild entertainment out of it.

Setup something across the street from the Ring-equipped house that never stops moving. A cheesy windmill, balloons on a sign, one of those wind-powered floppy dudes used cars lots have, etc. The camera will trigger constantly and quickly fill up the cloud storage. The constant triggers will render the motion alerts useless (it’s bad enough already but why not drive the point home?). The full cloud storage will render it more or less useless and it will consume a ton of their internet data cap, if they have one. Sooner or later they’ll give up on motion detection and the cloud storage. Then the only use of the doorbell will be as an actual video doorbell that sends video to the mobile app only when someone rings the damn thing.

bob says:

Re: Re: Re:

If it requires a subscription to store the video footage who is paying that?

If they give these out for free I doubt the majority will pay the money for the subscription, or is that subsidized as well?

If no one is paying then they don’t record anything that could be useful for cops anyway. So why should the tax payer help fund this effort?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

There is every chance that Amazon is still receiving all the video, 24/7, from every Ring doorbell but simply doesn’t store motion clips for the homeowner to review without the subscription. All that video can still be used and processed by Amazon for consumption by anyone (read: law enforcement) willing to pay for it.

vilain (profile) says:

Re: Re: the video has no time track or other info

The ring videos have no time-sync info in the frame. It’s just video and you have to hand correlate the video with the time it was taken. Not 100% useless, but I doubt it can be used as any sort of evidence in court. More likely it can help ID someone or get proof they did something, as with my former downstairs neighbor. She and slimeball boyfriend slunk away after we put up private video cameras around the complex.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

But you can screw with them:

You people are nuts. Since when did it become some horrible offense to have a security camera on your house?

Package and mail theft and vandalism is at an all-time high where I live and these cameras and the more traditional home security cameras have been instrumental in catching the little fuckers who are doing it, but reading these comments, you’d think it’s the homeowners who should be arrested and put on trial.

Do you think the cameras are unfair to the shitstains who steal stuff because they can’t do their crime as easily? That it doesn’t give them enough of an advantage over the law-abiding or something?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

Still going with that bullshit, eh?

And there is no hiding when computers can track you everywhere you go. If by "hiding in plain sight" you meant "moving to the hills where there is no technology" then sure, you can hide. But if you have a job and pay taxes, drive a car and live anywhere near a city you can be sure there is no hiding.

Agammamon says:

Re: Re:

Yes. Those they’re kind of hard to find – like most things, its not the item that makes the company money, its the ‘service subscription’ they’re after so the majority of companies want to be IOT.

Or, you can, if you’re somewhat technically inclined and can follow instructions, build your own network solution from COTS.

bobob says:

Re: What about the people across the street?

Yes – visit your neighbor’s porch from out of the camera view, (to avoid being on a stupidest criminals episode), wear a mask and then spray paint over it. Or, tell your neighbors that you are going to return the favor by taking videos of them through their windows with a telephoto lens. Sit on your porch with binoculars and watch them until they come over and ask what the fuck you are doing.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: What about the people across the street?

Yes – visit your neighbor’s porch from out of the camera view, (to avoid being on a stupidest criminals episode), wear a mask and then spray paint over it.

So you’ve committed trespass and vandalism at this point. Anyone sees you do it, you’re going to jail. What? You’ll do it at night under cover of darkness? That’s a felony enhancement under most states’ criminal codes. Now you’re going to prison.

Or, tell your neighbors that you are going to return the favor by taking videos of them through their windows with a telephoto lens.

And now you’ve added felony stalking and harassment to your charge list.

Sit on your porch with binoculars and watch them until they come over and ask what the fuck you are doing.

Wow, you actually decided to do something that’s not illegal. You feeling okay there at the end?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: What about the people across the street?

[quote]So you’ve committed trespass and vandalism at this point. Anyone sees you do it, you’re going to jail. What? You’ll do it at night under cover of darkness? That’s a felony enhancement under most states’ criminal codes. Now you’re going to prison.[/quote]
Life is full of risks and trade offs. If a neighbor is taking videos of me with his doorbell 24/7, I’ll risk it.
[quote]And now you’ve added felony stalking and harassment to your charge list.[/quote]
In that case, I’ll just have the neighbor charged for using his doorbell to stalk and harrass me. It works both ways.
[quote]Wow, you actually decided to do something that’s not illegal. [/quote]
Not only that, once he trespasses on my property and gives me shit, I have lots of legal options if I "feel threatened."

If you want a fucking camera on your porch, confine its view to your own property.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What about the people across the street?

Life is full of risks and trade offs. If a neighbor is taking videos of me with his doorbell 24/7, I’ll risk it.

Great! Don’t drop the soap.

In that case, I’ll just have the neighbor charged for using his doorbell to stalk and harrass me.

No, you won’t. There’s a significant difference that makes your neighbor’s behavior legal and the behavior you contemplate a felony. You figure out what it is, if you can.

If you want a fucking camera on your porch, confine its view to your own property.

If you don’t want anyone to look at your house, go buy a 100,000 acre ranch and put your house in the middle of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Good thing I don’t have a Video Camera Doorbell, let alone Rings!!! For one I’d get one that is going to support Apple’s new Homekit support for these things which will be Encrypted so that only you can see, not even Apple can view. Just more of Apple’s Security and privacy. Of course, if you’re an Android user, that’s not going to work for you.

I sure wouldn’t get a RING. If I had one before Amazon acquired the company, I would have taken it down and sold it off. No cameras in my house having anything to do with Amazon or Google for that matter. In fact, I went the better way. Installed my own 5MP PoE camera setup with an NVR that is recording everything 24/7. Costs me ZERO per month to view anywhere.

My Cameras are in plain sight. You can see the 2 red LED’s at night for night vision. That’s enough to scare most people away to an easier target. I don’t need a video doorbell. I have a cheapo Wireless Doorbell I’ve been using for a number of years. There’s normally someone home most of the time, but if you’re a porch pirate, You’re going to be on a few cameras. I got you also on a number of neighbors houses around me on the unblinking eye of my cameras.
Since I’m on an inside corner, I see the whole front of my house and down the side of my house for all my neighbors. I need just a couple more for the back yard area.

Already helped the police once for the neighbor who’s truck was hit and run. I got it on Video along with Audio as my cameras to pick up audio. They don’t have a speaker so I can’t talk to someone. They dolt me what vehicle it was and the time frame. I took a look myself, found it, saved the clip and emailed it off to the officer on this case. What a good neighbor I am. Even though I can see all their comings and goings myself if I cared.

No expectation of privacy in public.

Anonymous Coward says:

No expectation of privacy in public.

I used to think that about 20 years ago, but then I actually thought about it.

The fact is that people alway HAVE had an expectation of privacy in "public", at least when there was nobody visibly around. And it has been a reasonable one.

Sure, somebody could always have been peeping on you, but the chances were always pretty small when they had to be there in person to do it. And even in person, intentionally watching people without making yourself known has always been seen as a sneaky, creepy, not-OK thing to do. Doubly so if you did it systematically.

There has also always been a reasonable expectation that only the people who were actually around could see what you were doing, not just any random person who might get ahold of video later.

The fact is that you’re rationalizing and you’re wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

I love this. It’s about time that Amazon and local law enforcement start taking "porch thieves" serious enough to start surveiling these thieves. So, imagine my surprize to see Techdirt writers claiming that this should not happen.

Keep deluding yourselves and the next time you order a 50" HDTV and some porch pirate steals it, then donm’t come whining about porch pirates, when you advocate they should be allowed to steal without someone capturing video proof of their thieving.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The issue is the Internet of Crap components...

If you want to set up a cheap PoE camera recording to some NAS disk, I’m pretty sure that’s fine by TD (and the commentariat, too). It’s the ability of the Ring’s cloud-based storage to be used against you (Third Party Doctrine, Amazon just rolling over and complying with LE even when the request isn’t reasonable, LE not being reasonable to begin with) that’s a big chunk of the problem here…

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