Civil Rights Groups Ask Legislators To Block Ring's Surveillance Partnerships With Law Enforcement

from the and-we'll-see-what-legislators-actually-care dept

If Amazon’s not interested in scaling back its aggressive rollout of Ring doorbell/cameras — a rollout achieved largely through partnerships with law enforcement agencies — maybe some legislators will be willing to step in.

Amazon’s Ring has nailed down 95% of the doorbell camera market. Some of this is due to name recognition. Amazon and doorsteps go together and who wouldn’t want a passive eyeball “guarding” the front door to deter package thieves from walking off with a homeowner’s purchased goods?

But Amazon has also received a lot of support from hundreds government agencies. Amazon gives local police departments discounts on the cameras in exchange for pushing residents to use Ring’s snitch app, Neighbors. The app encourages users to post footage of suspicious happenings, further erasing the line between public and private, and making Ring owners more receptive to law enforcement requests for footage.

The wheels are further greased by law enforcement, which gives these cameras away to homeowners (sometimes even going so far as to help install them) with the implicit suggestion homeowners will return the favor when cops make warrantless requests for recordings. If law enforcement agencies feel uneasy about this public/private partnership, Ring is more than willing to handle agencies’ PR work by issuing press releases and editing planned public statements.

Ring also provides a portal for officers to request footage from camera owners. There’s nothing in the process that encourages the use of a warrant. If users reject the request, cops can just grab a subpoena and get it from Ring directly, bypassing warrant requirements completely.

The rollout continues unabated, with Ring receiving another PR black eye with every set of released public records. At some point, Ring was providing officers with a map of every installed Ring camera — even those officers didn’t hand out themselves. It also gave officers stats on how often their warrantless requests for recordings were rejected. Ring has also claimed it won’t be adding facial recognition tech to its cameras (yet), but it also employs a “Head of Facial Recognition Tech.”

Since Ring’s not going to stop being Ring, a coalition of more than 30 civil rights groups is asking legislators to start paying attention to what’s happening on millions of doorsteps in America. (via Boing Boing)

Today, 30+ civil rights organizations signed an open letter sounding the alarm about Amazon’s spreading Ring doorbell partnerships with police. The letter calls on local, state, and federal officials to use their power to investigate Amazon Ring’s business practices, put an end to Amazon-police partnerships, and pass oversight measures to deter such partnerships in the future.

Specifically, the letter asks city, state, and federal legislators to step into the regulatory void created by this new market — one that expands government surveillance powers by tying law enforcement agencies to cameras owned by private citizens.

Amazon Ring partnerships with police departments threaten civil liberties, privacy and civil rights, and exist without oversight or accountability. Given its significant risks, no surveillance partnerships with Amazon Ring should have been established, or should be established in the future, without substantial community engagement and input and elected official approval. To that end, we call on mayors and city councils to require police departments to cancel any and all existing Amazon Ring partnerships, and to pass surveillance oversight ordinances that will deter police departments from entering into such agreements in the future. We further call on Congress to investigate Ring’s practices and demand more transparency from the company.

Fight for the Future points out footage obtained by law enforcement agencies can be held onto indefinitely. Once stored locally, agencies are free to apply facial recognition tech Ring hasn’t added to its product yet. They can also turn this over to federal agencies like ICE and the FBI without needing to go through the hassle of receiving a judge’s signature.

And if legislators aren’t worried about police access to footage, maybe they’ll show some concern about Ring’s access to its cameras. Contractors employed by Ring have access to live footage as well as any recordings stored in its cloud.

Ring has cornered the market. It also has 400+ law enforcement agencies in its pocket. The expansion isn’t slowing and Ring has shown it’s willing to speak on behalf of the government through press releases and to edit the government’s statements if it doesn’t like what’s being said. This isn’t normal. And the potential downsides of allowing cops and private companies to coexist as equal partners in surveillance have just begun to be explored.

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Companies: amazon, ring

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Comments on “Civil Rights Groups Ask Legislators To Block Ring's Surveillance Partnerships With Law Enforcement”

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Tin-Foil-Hat says:

Which Legislators?

Good luck with that. Congress is full of spineless, corrupt, liars and the ones who aren’t have to get legislation past the spineless, corrupt liars.

Cancel your ring service and tell them why. If you don’t intend to get ring service write to Amazon and tell them you’re never going to get ring service until this mandatory partnership deal ends.

When Amazon loses money is when changes will be made.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Which Legislators?

When Amazon loses money is when changes will be made.

…you…do understand that Amazon’s entire business model for the past twenty-five years has been built on loss leaders, yes?

While I definitely wouldn’t recommend supporting Ring (even if Amazon did stop doing business with law enforcement), Amazon’s a lot less susceptible to boycotts than other companies. It’s a company that’s willing to lose truckloads of money in one sector of its business because it’s making busloads of money in another one.

Tin-Foil-Hat says:

Re: Re: Which Legislators?

It isn’t only a boycott. Not participating is just that. The police can’t ask for something that isn’t there. I don’t have faith in Legislators or consumers unless it affects them personally which it will eventually but by that time it will be too late. We’ll probably all be mandated to install one.

Oninoshiko (profile) says:

Re: Re: I'm having problems seeing the issue...

That’s not what’s happening. I was ready to be outraged when this first broke, but as soon as I did any looking I found out that the homeowner consent is obtained before releasing the video.

"Police do not automatically have access to Ring video streams. Law enforcement has access to a portal, and then needs to directly request information from Neighbors app users if it wants to watch footage. Ring says it does not share information with law enforcement unless a user consents."

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I'm having problems seeing the issue...

Ring also provides a portal for officers to request footage from camera owners. There’s nothing in the process that encourages the use of a warrant. If users reject the request, cops can just grab a subpoena and get it from Ring directly, bypassing warrant requirements completely.

Did you miss the subpeona part?

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I'm having problems seeing the issue...

I’d suggest you read the article again, and then go and read the other articles that are linked to by this article, if you’re having trouble seeing the issue.

The whole problem is that this does, in fact, circumvent the warrant requirement. It’s all well and good to say "consumer gave consent" – but in the context it’s not fine. Remember, the police are doing PR work for this. They’re giving out the cameras free. Amazon was telling them when people said no. It’s all a setup for "we gave you the camera, you best be giving us the footage."

Any consent given, under this circumstance, is suspect. If the customer does not give consent, they get a subpoena … to search the information anyway, rather than the much higher bar of the warrant.

This type of relationship is ripe for abuse. If you can’t see that, I suggest removing the rose lenses, and look at it with a greater level of suspicion.

Burning woodchipper says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Subpoena =!= Warrant

The bar for subpoenas is significantly lower than for a warrant. And what with the "third party" nonsense, whatever your camera records isn’t really yours anyway.

Not to mention that my neighbor’s doorbell is right across the street from my mailbox and front door. I don’t know what the range of the thing is, but his desire to watch trick-or-treaters on his Amazon TV should not trump my desire not to be recorded when I walk through my front door.

"Nothing to hide means nothing to fear" is still bullshit.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: I'm having problems seeing the issue...

They know you rang a phone sex service at 2:24 am and spoke for 18 minutes. But they don’t know what you talked about.
They know you called the suicide prevention hotline from the Golden Gate Bridge. But the topic of the call remains a secret.
They know you spoke with an HIV testing service, then your doctor, then your health insurance company in the same hour. But they don’t know what was discussed.
They know you received a call from the local NRA office while it was having a campaign against gun legislation, and then called your senators and congressional representatives immediately after. But the content of those calls remains safe from government intrusion.
They know you called a gynecologist, spoke for a half hour, and then called the local Planned Parenthood’s number later that day. But nobody knows what you spoke about.

They know who you visit, they can construct an entire timeline of your movements, they know who answered the door & what was said. Its not directly supplied, but can be requested (if you say yes or no) and reviewed because they want it.
If Google wants to fulfill a warrant for everyone within range of a geographic point for a 36 hour period, why should we question that? Why be concerned that LEO’s who have been shown to abuse private data for their own gain time and time and time again can fire up the app & see if their ex has a new man, if that cute girl they pulled over earlier lives alone & is home alone now.

The ability to abuse this system is huge, but pretending it is for our safety is supposed to make it okay. If a home owner wants to share video of a porch pirate that is one thing, it is another to pull video from an entire neighborhood just to take a peek.

Tim R (profile) says:

Law enforcement will complain about this, saying that the public is trying to take away an essential tool for fighting crime, and that doorsteps around the nation are going dark because they don’t have access to data…that they never had access to before…when they were still solving crimes.

You know, like with how the country was an untamed wilderness before they were able to coerce data from cell phones.

I think having a camera on the door stoop is a fantastic idea. I even don’t have any problem releasing material to the police if it shows a crime being committed. What I have a problem with is being told I have to, regardless of what the footage actually shows, or else they will just subpoena the information as a third party record. And does anybody think that they’ll really be THAT specific about the footage that they request. Once again, it’s like phone forensics. They’ll scoop up as much as they can, and decide later which 0.01% of it they actually needed.

Pretty soon, some of the AT&T guys that work with Homeland and the DEA will start getting job transfers to Amazon to grease the wheels a little.

Don Zurley Light says:

"This isn't normal." -- WRONG! You're in the 21st century, kids!

This IS the new normal corporate state that Masnick advocates every time he defends GOOGLE or holds that CDA Section 230 authorizes corporations to select who gets a public "platform", and what new stories will be listed. It’s all part of same plan, kids. Corporations only lead to authoritarian.

And the potential downsides of allowing cops and private companies to coexist as equal partners in surveillance have just begun to be explored.

Sheesh. Long planned.

Also, Techdirt used to advocate explicitly fascist "public-private partnerships" for city bonds to fund building out networks. But when your drug deals might be recorded by exactly similar fascism, it’s bad, eh?

For years I’ve been shrieking: "GOOGLE is NSA’s commercial front!", supported by Snowden who lists it among corporations giving NSA "direct access"… No one here picks up the cry except in most general way, muttering that your criminality of drugs and content theft could become risky.

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