More than 30 civil rights groups—including RAICES, Media Justice, Fight for the Future and National Immigration Law Center—came together to protest Amazon Ring’s partnerships with police forces across the country, according to a Vox report. The group published a joint letter on Tuesday (October 8) that says the collaboration “[threatens] civil liberties, privacy and civil rights, and [exists] without oversight or accountability.”
Amazon Ring, a wi-fi powered home security system, includes doorbell video cameras, floodlight video cameras and in-home security cameras. According to Vox, Amazon has established more than 500 partnerships that permit law enforcement organizations to contact Ring owners directly and request access to video footage that they think can assist in official criminal investigations. In some cases, police actually distribute free or discounted Ring products to residents to further their aims.
The letter breaks down the coalition’s concerns about the partnerships:
Amazon’s technology creates a seamless and easily automated experience for police to request and access footage without a warrant, and then store it indefinitely. In the absence of clear civil liberties and rights-protective policies to govern the technologies and the use of their data, once collected, stored footage can be used by law enforcement to conduct facial recognition searches, target protesters exercising their First Amendment rights, teenagers for minor drug possession, or shared with other agencies like ICE or the FBI.
Homeowners can also post footage from their security systems directly to Neighbors by Ring, a neighborhood watch-type app run by Amazon that lets users view and comment on video posts. But history shows these types of apps negatively impact people of color.
Chris Gilliard, a professor of English at Macomb Community College, talked to Vice about the ramifications of platforms like Ring’s app that reinforce racism. “We know from a bunch of high profile incidents in the past, and even when people live in a particular neighborhood, often their White neighbors don’t identify them as neighbors or belonging in those spaces,” Gilliard said. “So there’s a way that Blackness can be seen as foreign, even when you ‘belong.’ And those systems codify that in a way that makes me really uncomfortable.”
The civil rights activists behind the letter are pressuring elected officials to either end the practice of Amazon partnering with law enforcement or launch an investigation into the practice. Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, told Vox, “I don’t think they should have for-profit surveillance partnerships with companies like Amazon without getting express permission from the city council or mayor or without having some community input.” Greer added, “Amazon has found the perfect end run around the democratic process: Getting the police to market their products to private individuals and then giving the police a seamless process for accessing the footage those individuals are collecting, with no meaningful oversight from the community.”
In its response to the letter, Amazon claimed that the Ring is not a threat to civil liberties:
The Neighbors app has strict community guidelines, trained moderators, user flagging capabilities and other tools in place to create a safe place for all members of the community to talk about what’s happening in their neighborhoods. All content submitted to our app is reviewed to ensure that it adheres to our community guidelines, including our policies against racial profiling and prohibiting hate speech or other forms of prejudice before it goes live on the platform. We take this very seriously and have invested many resources, tools and human power to ensure we uphold a standard of trust and civility.