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.

Filed Under: cameras, doorbells, law enforcement, police, surveillance
Companies: amazon, ring

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  1. identicon
    Don Zurley Light, 22 Oct 2019 @ 3:34pm

    "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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