Civil Rights Organizations Call on Elected Officials to Stop Amazon’s Doorbell Surveillance Partnerships with Police

Today, over 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.

With no oversight and accountability, these partnerships pose a threat to privacy, civil liberties, and democracy. A few of the concerns highlighted by the organizations:

  • In the absence of clear civil liberties and rights-protective policies to govern the technologies and the use of surveillance footage, 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.
  • Ring technology gives Amazon employees and contractors in the US and Ukraine direct access to customers’ live camera feeds, a literal eye inside their homes and areas surrounding their homes. These live feeds provide surveillance on millions of American families––from a baby in their crib to someone walking their dog to a neighbour playing with young children in their yard––and other bystanders that don’t know they are being filmed and haven’t given their consent.
  • Amazon has not been transparent about plans to integrate facial recognition into Ring cameras. The Information reported Ring’s Ukraine-based research team accessed customer’s surveillance footage to train image recognition software. As facial recognition software has been shown to disproportionately misidentify people of colour, women and transgender people, it further compounds existing civil liberties concerns and expands suspected criminality centered in racial profiling and gender bias.

The map released by Amazon Ring shows more than 500 cities with Amazon-police partnerships. Through these partnerships, Amazon provides police officers with a seamless and easy way to request and store footage from thousands of residents throughout your city, allowing for warrantless surveillance with zero oversight or judicial review. In exchange, police departments market Amazon technology to residents and in some cases use taxpayer dollars to subsidize the resident’s purchase.

The signing organizations include: Fight for the Future, Media Justice, Color of Change, Secure Justice, Demand Progress, Defending Rights & Dissent, Muslim Justice League, X-Lab, Media Mobilizing Project, Restore The Fourth, Inc., Media Alliance, Youth Art & Self Empowerment Project, Center for Human Rights and Privacy, Oakland Privacy, Justice For Muslims Collective, The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Nation Digital Inclusion Alliance, Project On Government Oversight, OpenMedia, Council on American-Islamic Relations-SFBA, Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, MPower Change, Mijente, Access Humboldt, RAICES, National Immigration Law Center, The Tor Project, United Church of Christ, Office of Communication Inc., the Constitutional Alliance, RootsAction.org, CREDO Action, Presente.org, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and United We Dream.

Mike Katz-Lacabe,  of Oakland Privacy, one of the signatories of the letter said,
“Law enforcement should not be able to use private companies to engage in surveillance that has not been discussed by the community, approved by elected representatives, and that they don’t have the budget to conduct with their own resources. Almost every law enforcement agency would support the installation of surveillance cameras at every corner or house, but a society in which we are encouraged to surveil each other is not healthy for a free society. We have enshrined limits on government power in the Bill of Rights and we should not use private companies to circumvent the Constitution.”

Sean Taketa McLaughlin, Executive Director for Access Humbold said“We believe that privacy is essential for protecting freedom of information and expression. Information consumers and creators must have privacy as a fundamental right.  Sometimes people become complacent about these rights until they come under attack – but we know that eternal vigilance is required to sustain a healthy democracy.

Unwanted surveillance, by public agencies or private companies for commercial gain, has an immediate chilling effect on local voices and harms many aspects of modern life. Public health and safety, education, commerce, culture, arts and civic engagement all suffer when our freedom of information and expression is suppressed. Diverse local voices require open secure networks that respect the personal privacy of all people, supporting our basic human right to ‘seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’ (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19).”