By Aaron Kesel
Amazon’s Ring is under fire from U.S. senators who want a briefing by the end of the month on how the consumer technology operates, stores data and works with law enforcement.
In a letter to Amazon Feb. 19, Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, requested various documents and policies from Ring, including the most asked question — how the company partners with law enforcement agencies. The letter states the subcommittee is examining “traditional constitutional protections against surveilling Americans” and balancing civil liberties with security interests.
The Subcommittee is seeking more information regarding why cities and law enforcement agencies enter into these agreements. The answer appears to be that Ring gives them access to a much wider system of surveillance than they could build themselves, and Ring allows law enforcement access to a network of surveillance cameras on private property without the expense to taxpayers of having to purchase, install, and monitor those cameras.
“Once law enforcement agencies have access to consumers’ data, Ring has made it clear that the agencies can use, store and share that data however they want,” Krishnamoorthi said.
Krishnamoorthi has demanded Amazon reveal all agreements with cities, local law enforcement agencies and neighborhood watch groups, as well as all federal law enforcement agencies that have access to the Neighbors Portal, and whether any of those mentioned are contracted for Amazon’s facial recognition tool, Rekognition.
Ring openly works with law enforcement and at times even allows police access to its surveillance web. Activist Post even reported that Ring worked with police in several cities for a package sting operation called Grinch Grab of would-be thieves.
That’s not all — as Activist Post previously reported, Amazon’s Ring was teaching police to trick residents into sharing camera footage with them without a warrant as our Fourth Amendment rights are eroded.
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.
As The Intercept revealed, Amazon Ring further works with police to create a “suspicious neighbors” database of neighborhood watchlists using facial recognition technology.
Activist Post Recommended Book: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism
The software will also give the Ring owner the ability to notify police or call in the suspicious activity on their own.
Amazon recently upgraded its policy and security, announcing extra layers of protection and control by making two-factor authentication mandatory for users — meaning that when a person logs into their Ring account, they will have to enter a code emailed or texted to them to verify that they are the person attempting to log in.
Further, after EFF’s report on Ring’s use of the third-party trackers, the company also has announced that they are temporarily pausing the use of most third-party trackers and are working on a way to allow users to further limit information sharing. The announcement also stated that customers will be able to opt-out of sharing information with third-party trackers specifically for the purpose of receiving personalized ads. However, the biggest issue with Amazon Ring the law enforcement partnerships is still continuing.
In 2019, Senate lawmakers voiced similar concerns in a letter to Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos when reports surfaced that Amazon Ring’s at-home camera systems were sharing information with police departments. At the time, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said such data sharing “could easily create a surveillance network that places dangerous burdens on people of color.”
The rapid growth of this technology has triggered a much-needed debate to slow down the roll out. Activists, politicians, academics and even police forces all over the world are expressing serious concerns over the impact facial recognition could have on our society.
This may be why Amazon has decided to attempt to draft facial recognition laws, as the company has a huge investment in the technology with Ring. Bezos appears ready to snuggle close to the Department Of Defense to attempt to get on the good side of the government for whatever those reasons may be, whether it’s Amazon’s tax status or business opportunities. The underlying reason doesn’t really matter; what matters is that Amazon is willing to help the Pentagon and local police achieve a true fascist surveillance state to the detriment of all American citizens.
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