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.

Filed Under: doorbells, florida, lakeland, police, ring, surveillance
Companies: amazon


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 4:28am

    Amazon's Free Doorbell Cameras Only Cost Law Enforcement Agencies Their Dignity And Autonomy

    So for some PD's it only requires fealty toward Amazon instead of the town/state/etc?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 4:47am

    Re:

    Just removing an extra step is all

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 5:05am

    should be about 5-10 minutes

    an interactive map provided by Amazon called the "Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal."

    Well, now that it is known, I have to wonder just how long it will take for it to be hacked and perhaps even publicly accessible.

    Also, in Florida, there is an interesting question of need to hack. Assume for the moment that the law enforcement neighborhood portal provides information, which is to say, records, for the police. I think that a safe asusmption for now.

    How long will it take for someone to request information from there, the police to turn them down without a valid reason?

    The sad part is that I have no connection to the folks hacking in. So, when the legitimate records requestor shows up in my office for a S:119 action, it will be slower to do it the ``right'' way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Zof (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 5:34am

    The Important Thing

    Is building the kind of Police State where we can easily rig elections, and control the will of the people, like the UK has. They just have to slowly sneak the cameras onto us since we pretend we care about privacy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Mike Read (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 5:37am

    If you ignore the scumminess, this is actually genius on Amazon's part. They only have to advertise to the top level of the police force - the lower level police will then take care of everything else for them. Additionally they'll collect so much data from this scheme that they'll be able to turn into even more revenue.

    Scummy as hell but absolutely genius.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 6:01am

    Hmmm since Amazon now has some authority of a 'State Actor' does this open the door to (but not nessisarily mean) Amazon becoming a State Actor.

    Or maybe it opens the door to those PD's not being State Actors.

    "Wheeee no constitional bs anymore"

    /sigh

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 6:03am

    Re: should be about 5-10 minutes

    It's probably all available on some annoynmous access S3 bit bucket... just have to find it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    PaulT (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 6:28am

    Re: The Important Thing

    "rig elections, and control the will of the people, like the UK has"

    You're mistaken. You're thinking of the US, where the candidate who was vastly voted for by the most people was not given the election win, not the UK where the majority vote was honoured. As idiotic as recent election results have been in the UK in recent times, they have not been rigged, unlike the gerrymandered states.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Gary (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 6:55am

    Re:

    If you ignore the scumminess, this is actually genius on Amazon's part.

    Well it certainly can be both! :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 7:01am

    Soon one will be labeled a non-patriot if they do not sign up with this new fangled spy apparatus. Then it will become mandatory with fines for non-compliance.

    And let us not forget, these IOT devices allow easy access to your lan.

    I imagine insurance companies will also be interested in this footage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Michael, 30 Jul 2019 @ 7:55am

    Law enforcement agencies had dignity?

    Who knew?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 8:36am

    Re:

    Only them, but then only from their perspective, at least in recent history.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 8:46am

    I told y'all there's an app for that:
    Guy Fawkes masks

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 9:31am

    If I go to memory-alpha.org, I see a long list of disclaimers:

    The user-created content of this site is released under the Creative Commons "Attribution-NonCommercial" license version 4.0. See Memory Alpha: Copyrights for more information.

    Community content is available under CC-BY-NC unless otherwise noted.

    followed by a huge display ad for Amazon. While Amazon doesn't own Wikia Inc, they are an investor and a sponsor. Placing adverts against content that's under a non-commercial licence looks an awful lot like stealing from that content's creators to me... so where do I place the cameras to get this shut down?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Luckydob (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 9:47am

    Re: Re: The Important Thing

    This is EXACTLY how it's supposed to be in the USA. The President of the United States of America is never chosen by popular vote. It is based on the electoral college, which is a good thing, even though it doesn't assure that the president will receive the most votes overall. It does assure that the president will have won with substantial popular support, and that support will not be limited to one region of the country or to a handful of coastal cities.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    PaulT (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 10:04am

    Re: Re: Re: The Important Thing

    The problem being of course that those handful of cities is where most Americans live, meaning that one person’s vote is only worth a fraction of that others depending on location. Hence, easily rigged by targeting a few yokels with nerds opposed to that of the majority of Americans.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 10:29am

    Re:

    Could we maybe hack this and make somehow cops agree to protect the people? The Supreme Court has said cops have no such duty, but the Court does like to uphold contracts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 12:23pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The Important Thing

    My guess is that the lesser of the evils is the electoral college. Either hickville gets screwed or the major cities do. Overall, don't piss off the farmers or the cities start lacking food.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 12:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The Important Thing

    The intent was that the president would have little power. The title "president" was chosen from modesty—they'd "preside over" or watch the lawmakers, basically, and faithfully execute whatever laws they passed. You'd still elect a congressperson and senator who would, collectively, have most of the real power and could stand up against a bad president.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    btr1701 (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 12:58pm

    This arrangement allows officers to bypass warrant requirements by approaching homeowners directly for footage.

    Asking for consent to search does not 'bypass the warrant requirement', for god's sweet sake.

    The ability of a person to consent to a search has been part of 4th Amendment law from the beginning, not a "bypass" of it. It's inherent in the entire concept of private property and the rights that go with it: I can give and refuse consent to search my own property as I please.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    btr1701 (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 1:00pm

    Granted, this was always the case, but a portal connecting police with Ring doorbell users streamlines the process.

    So basically nothing of substance has actually changed, it's just more efficient. Apparently that's a bad thing to the Cushings of the world. I guess it's not fair enough to the criminals or something. Decreases their odds of getting away with their thievery and whatnot. Can't have that, I guess.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 1:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The Important Thing

    Thank goodness we have a great president currently as that last one was really bad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 1:39pm

    So giving out a bunch of camera doorbells for free where you still have to pay a monthly subscription to make them useful? Cameras that record everything into the cloud unless of course, you cut that COAX wire or phone line or both going into the house. No Internet, no recording of anything with these cloud-based storage cameras.

    With these Amazon cameras, I'm sure giving police access to what they are seeing for a price to bring in even more money for Amazon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 3:18pm

    Re:

    Yes, you are correct in that we can not allow criminal activity at all - anywhere. So, to that end I am proposing that you have wifi enabled video cameras installed in every room in your house and do not forget the microphones. Allowing the police to monitor these devices in your home will ensure there is no criminal activity - right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 3:20pm

    Re:

    "So giving out a bunch of camera doorbells for free"

    I suggest they call their new program - Doorbells for Dummies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 3:31pm

    Re:

    I’ll take things that never actually happened for $500 Alex.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    btr1701 (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 3:34pm

    Re: Re:

    For someone who gets so routinely worked up over strawmen, you sure do like to bring them out and give them a good beating when it suits you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    PaulT (profile), 31 Jul 2019 @ 4:41am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The Important Thing

    "You'd still elect a congressperson and senator who would, collectively, have most of the real power and could stand up against a bad president."

    That's the ideal. Unfortunately, what you have is idiots who vote straight ticket and refuse to change their voting patterns when things go south, so you have a Replublican controlled system where more people are interested in playing partisan games than they are in actually doing what's right for their constituents.

    Again, the ideals of the system are found. Their practise is not working right now, and it took surprisingly few votes to be gamed to achieve that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 31 Jul 2019 @ 5:33am

    Re: Re: The Important Thing

    Eh, per Caroline Cadwalladr of the Guardian the election may not have been rigged but it was unduly influenced by Cambridge Analyitica. It doesn't help that only six entities own the majority of our mass media outlets, including newspapers. This is how that Pound Shop Trump Boris Johnson became our PM.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    Jim P. (profile), 31 Jul 2019 @ 11:24am

    Choice Vs. Compulsion

    " 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. "

    There is a fine line, easily crossed, between giving the recordings voluntarily and being required to do so. Possibly on a regular basis for "review" and "historical analysis".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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