By Aaron Kesel
Activist Post has previously reported that Ring was running entrapment fake package operations with several police departments across the U.S., including coaching them. Now, Vice News has reported that Amazon’s Ring is teaching police to trick residents into sharing camera footage with them without a warrant as our Fourth Amendment rights are eroded.
The Fourth amendment is defined as follows according to Cornell Law School:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Until now you have been protected against illegal search and seizure, but not if Amazon Ring can help it!
Vice News reports:
Emails and documents obtained by Motherboard reveal that people aren’t always willing to provide police with their Ring camera footage. However, Ring works with law enforcement and gives them advice on how to persuade people to give them footage.
Emails obtained from police department in Maywood, NJ—and emails from the police department of Bloomfield, NJ, which were also posted by Wired—show that Ring coaches police on how to obtain footage. The company provides cops with templates for requesting footage, which they do not need a court warrant to do. Ring suggests cops post often on Neighbors, Ring’s free “neighborhood watch” app, where Ring camera owners have the option of sharing their camera footage.
According to the documents, Vice shows that a Ring employee instructed police to increase their opt-in rate which would then allow police the ability to access those homeowners’ cameras at any point, once they get permission from them.
“I have noticed you have been posting alerts and receiving feedback from the community,” a Ring representative told Bloomfield police. “You are doing a great job interacting with them and that will be critical in increasing the opt-in rate.”
“The more users you have, the more useful the information you can collect,” the representative added.
Ring recommends police inundate their local residents with their cameras and advertise the software to download.
- Post on their department’s Twitter and Facebook pages to encourage Neighbors downloads.
- Use Neighbors downloads as “credits” to get free Ring cameras.
- Increase the amount of video surveillance in their communities.
- Use the Law Enforcement Neighborhoods Portal to request surveillance footage.
If that’s not enough, GovTech has reported that police can go around customers and request Ring camera footage directly from Amazon when they are denied access to homeowners’ cameras. Therefore, bypassing permission of the owners of the cameras and going directly to the source, Amazon’s Ring, to “subpoena” video footage.
Amazon Ring now has a reported 225 partnerships with law enforcement according to Gizmodo. However, a report by Motherboard revealed that the number was actually 231 law enforcement agencies around the country who have partnered with Ring. It’s important to note that these partnerships take both a financial and digital form, because for every resident who downloads Ring’s Neighbors app, local police departments get credits toward buying the cameras they can then use distribute to residents. This arrangement makes salespeople out of what should be impartial and trusted protectors of our civic society, the EFF argues.
This is not the first time the government has attempted to use an economic incentive to expand the reach of surveillance technology and to subsidize the vendors. In 2017, EFF spoke out against legislation that would provide tax credits for California residents who purchased home security systems.
In other words, unlike other surveillance companies, Ring is trying to weasel its way into law enforcement becoming a part of our daily lives like a tick, leech or mosquito you can’t seem to get rid of. The fact that police wanted to give citizens free Ring devices in exchange for being able to access the sophisticated facial recognition cameras, raises a red flag about the expansion of the police state.
Activist Post previously reported that the Ring Neighbors app was looking to hire “news editors” to create a “Crime News Network.” We now know this was to pull 911 call data into the app for real-time, unconfirmed crime alerts, according to another article by Gizmodo.
We then followed up with another report on Ring using real surveillance footage in advertisements for its software on Facebook for “Community Alerts.” Ironically, or perhaps not at this point, these are videos of people who are being treated as guilty before a court passes due process. This process further erodes not only the Fourth Amendment but the right to a fair trial and the right to be presumed to be innocent before proven guilty.
All of a sudden unverified videos of residents who may or may not be committing a crime are plastered everywhere because the police themselves aren’t actually vetting the footage before it’s shared as an ad for “Community Alerts.” So what’s stopping Ring posting a video of someone innocent simply because it didn’t get the scrutiny needed? Further, is Ring actively endangering petty thieves by publishing the videos? This author can imagine a scenario where a would-be thief is chased down by a mob. Is this really the type of society we want to live in, blanketed by Amazon surveillance cameras, while also skipping due process?
is it legal for ring/amazon to use faces of people, suspected BY THEIR CUSTOMERS to have done crimes, in an advertisement? especially given they havent consented or been convicted or anything. seems uhhh not right pic.twitter.com/a6SnOGT5dl
— jonhendrenPeaceful (@fart) June 4, 2019
When Activist Post first reported on this shocking technology we were under the impression it was just algorithms tagging objects and people. We were so wrong; this statement by the ACLU is even more on-point now.
Amazon is dreaming of a dangerous future, with its technology at the center of a massive decentralized surveillance network, running real-time facial recognition on members of the public using cameras installed in people’s doorbells. – Jacob Snow, ACLU
While the details are sketchy, the application describes a system that the police can use to match the faces of people walking by a doorbell camera with a photo database of persons they deem “suspicious.” Likewise, homeowners can also add photos of “suspicious” people into the system and then the doorbell’s facial recognition program will scan anyone passing their home. In either case, if a match occurs, the person’s face can be automatically sent to law enforcement, and the police could arrive in minutes.
According to a report earlier this year by The Intercept, there have been more than just algorithms watching through the lens of Amazon’s Ring surveillance cameras.
Several sources told The Intercept that numerous Ukrainian “data operators” under Ring Labs and U.S. engineers were given access to customer videos on the Amazon cloud, allowing anyone with access to view anyone with Ring cameras’ personal videos due to lack of any sort of encryption.
With that said, remember when Activist Post told you that this would be used as a dragnet to report your neighbors? At this point, they are literally just creating George Orwell’s 1984 or reinventing the Stasi, which was in part infiltrated by Nazis.
Both of those are not good concepts for our future and are worrying prospects, which is why many privacy advocate groups, attorneys, and even more recently Microsoft (which also markets its own facial recognition system) have all raised concerns over the technology. They all point to the obvious issues of consent, racial profiling, and the potential to use images gathered through facial recognition cameras as evidence of criminal guilt by law enforcement. But the bigger issue is one that Jay Stanley an attorney at ACLU highlighted a full-blown police state.
“We don’t want to live in a world where government bureaucrats can enter in your name into a database and get a record of where you’ve been and what your financial, political, sexual, and medical associations and activities are,” Jay Stanley, an attorney with ACLU, told BuzzFeed News about the use of facial recognition cameras in retail stores. “And we don’t want a world in which people are being stopped and hassled by authorities because they bear resemblance to some scary character.” (Source)
Amazon seems hell-bent on creating a surveillance network, whether it’s through selling the FBI and law enforcement surveillance software like Amazon’s Facial Rekognition technology under fire by a government watchdog for its lack of privacy, or Amazon’s Ring’s neighborhood surveillance network working with police on sting operations.
Amazon employees who are against the company selling facial recognition technology to the government have protested the company’s decision. Over 20 groups of shareholders have sent several letters to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos urging him to stop selling the company’s face recognition software to law enforcement.
“We are concerned the technology would be used to unfairly and disproportionately target and surveil people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations,” the shareholders, which reportedly include Social Equity Group and Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, wrote. “We are concerned sales may be expanded to foreign governments, including authoritarian regimes.”
Another letter was just sent in January 2019, organized by Open Mic, a nonprofit organization focused on corporate accountability, and was filed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood; both letters warned the technology poses “potential civil and human rights risks.”
Numerous civil rights organizations have also co-signed a letter demanding Amazon stop assisting government surveillance; and several members of Congress have expressed concerns about the partnerships.
Several lawmakers have even chimed in to voice concerns about Amazon’s facial recognition software, expressing worry that it could be misused, The Hill reported.
In a 2018 report, the ACLU called Amazon’s facial recognition project a “threat to civil liberties.”
Amazon responded by essentially shrugging off the employees’ and shareholder concerns by the head of the company’s public sector cloud computing business, stating that the team is “unwaveringly” committed to the U.S. government.
“We are unwaveringly in support of our law enforcement, defense and intelligence community,” Teresa Carlson, vice president of the worldwide public sector for Amazon Web Services, said July 20th last year at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, FedScoop reported.
Amazon has frequently worked with police, but so far never anything this direct and close with police departments, always working at arms length. In this instance, Amazon is literally working as a Public Relations firm to mortify citizens into thinking they live in a bad neighborhood and require their facial recognition neighborhood surveillance devices to be safe. However, if NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s files and CIA suspected WikiLeaks Vault 7 leaker Joshua Schulte taught us only one thing, it’s that we shouldn’t relinquish our privacy for safety. It’s one prospect to allow federal agencies to have access to being able to tap into electronics, it’s a whole other thing when that power is given to local police departments enabling further abuse.
San Francisco and Oakland, California, and Somerville, Massachusetts have all banned facial recognition from their cities, citing concerns about the safety and accuracy of the software. Orlando, Florida has also recently ended its trial of Amazon’s Rekognition software, it’s time for the rest of America to follow suit!
Here’s your friendly reminder: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a partnership deal with the CIA for $600 million worth of cloud servers. Maybe Bezos is secretly Dr. Evil petting his cat as his surveillance state comes to fruition, so he can rule and control the world through his technology? The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has signaled it will investigate NSA Surveillance and Facial Rekognition.
Image credit: ACLU.org
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