Amazon's Free Doorbell Cameras Only Cost Law Enforcement Agencies Their Dignity And Autonomy
from the edging-even-closer-to-midnight-on-the-late-stage-capitalism-doomsday-clock dept
Amazon isn’t just handing out cheap/free doorbell surveillance cameras to cops. It’s tying them into contracts that require government agency recipients return the favor by publicizing Amazon’s Ring doorbells and running their PR responses through the online retailer. That’s according to documents obtained by Caroline Haskins of Vice, who secured copies of Amazon Ring contracts via public records requests.
A signed memorandum of understanding between Ring and the police department of Lakeland, Florida, and emails obtained via a public records request, show that Ring is using local police as a de facto advertising firm. Police are contractually required to “Engage the Lakeland community with outreach efforts on the platform to encourage adoption of the platform/app.”
In order to partner with Ring, police departments must also assign officers to Ring-specific roles that include a press coordinator, a social media manager, and a community relations coordinator.
There’s no such thing as a free surveillance camera. Amazon gives these to local cops with the understanding they will proselytize on behalf of its doorbell cameras. Police give these cameras to residents with the understanding (albeit one without the legally-binding language) that they’ll hand over footage from these cameras whenever officers ask for it.
The set-up is sustainable and scales well. The more residents who download Amazon’s surveillance/snitch app Neighbors, the more credits cops can apply towards the purchase of more Ring cameras. It’s a new spin on pyramid schemes, with Amazon gaining market share with each deployment, allowing government employees to do the legwork.
The police become middlemen and advertisers. Some agencies might bristle at the mandated evangelism Amazon demands, but that resentment is likely outweighed by the addition of several cameras to the agency’s surveillance network. As previous reporting has shown, every installed Ring doorbell cam shows up on an interactive map provided by Amazon called the “Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal.” Cops know who have cameras and can easily figure out what footage might be useful while investigating criminal activity.
This arrangement allows officers to bypass warrant requirements by approaching homeowners directly for footage. Granted, this was always the case, but a portal connecting police with Ring doorbell users streamlines the process.
Amazon — through Ring — claims this is all meant to make neighborhoods safer. Many residents accepting doorbell cameras likely believe this claim. But it’s really about Amazon cornering a market by offering free goods to cops and the public they serve.
The contractual language that turns police PR contacts into an extension of Ring’s marketing team blurs the line between public and private, pretty much ensuring the public will receive the smallest amount of law enforcement’s attention. PDs will serve their own interests first, followed by those of their new corporate overlords. And what does the public get out of it? Free cameras loaded with implicit obligations to everyone on the supply chain.