The signatories of the open letter include privacy advocacy groups like Media Justice, the Tor Project, and Media Mobilizing Project, and racial justice coalition like The Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Mijente, and the American-Arab Anti-Discriimnination Committee. The open letter points out that the proliferation of privatized surveillance cameras like Ring, which make it easy for law enforcement to request footage without a warrant, disproportionately puts marginalized and over-policed communities of color at risk. “There’s been a lot of reporting and general discussion about these surveillance partnerships and the potential risks to privacy and civil liberties,” Evan Greer deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a phone call. “But this is the first time that a major coalition of significant organizations are explicitly calling on elected officials to do something about it.”
When Ring partners with police, the company provides police with a tool called the Law Enforcement Neighborhoods Portal. This tool is an interactive map that shows the approximate location of all Ring camera owners in the area, and allows police to request footage directly from residents, streamlining the process of voluntary evidence sharing. As reported by Motherboard, police then have to make an exchange. Some police have to promote Ring either implicitly, through only speaking about Ring in company-approved statements and providing download links to Ring’s “neighborhood watch” app, Neighbors. Others must promote it explicitly, by signing agreements stipulating that police must “encourage adoption” of Ring cameras and Neighbors.
Digital rights group Fight for the Future has compiled a map that shows the breadth of Amazon Ring partnerships with local police for the first time. "Amazon is aggressively marketing surveillance products, including facial recognition, to government agencies with a proven track record of human rights abuses," Greer told BuzzFeed News.
The open letter points out that some cities subsidize discounts on Ring cameras. As reported by Motherboard, some cities have paid up to $100,000 of taxpayer money in order to fund these discount programs.Greer said that the letter acts on an urgent need for local lawmakers to ask questions about Ring, and federal lawmakers to formally investigate the company’s practices.
“Our elected officials in Congress, at the very least, have to be asking what the implications for our country are if a company like Amazon is able to exponentially increase the number of cameras in our neighborhoods, and at the same time, enter into these cozy partnerships with law enforcement,” Greer said. ‘“There’s no oversight for what [police] can do with [data] once they collect it.”
A Ring spokesperson said in an email statement that the company's mission is to "help make neighborhoods safer."
"We work towards this mission in a number of ways, including providing a free tool that can help build stronger relationships between communities and their local law enforcement agencies," Ring said. "We have taken care to design these features in a way that keeps users in control and protects their privacy."See Motherboard’s Ring topic page for our most recent reporting about the company. Got a tip about Ring discount programs, police partnerships, or something else? We'd love to hear from you. You can contact Caroline Haskins securely on Signal on +1 (785) 813-1084, or via email at [email protected]
Update Oct. 8: This story has been updated to include comment from Ring.