As Ring’s surveillance partnerships come into focus, civil rights groups speak up

As Ring expands partnerships with local law enforcement, the fine print issues are becoming clearer.

October 10, 2019

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Back in August, The Washington Post reported that more than 400 US agencies have inked video-sharing partnerships with Amazon’s Ring camera unit, which allows police potential access to footage from millions of internet-connected Ring cameras nationwide. 

Amazon and Ring — a company that hails its Neighbors app as “The New Neighborhood Watch” — see the rapid growth as a notch to be celebrated. But critics aren’t dancing (unless you consider flipping a lid a dance move).

On Tuesday, more than 30 civil rights and privacy groups endorsed an open letter calling on US cities to end their partnerships with Ring. Among other things, they cited a lack of transparency around the company’s marketing tactics and concerns involving consumer privacy.

Here are some of the issues the letter highlights: 

  • Cops are coached on how to get surveillance footage without a warrant.
  • Officials in partnered law enforcement agencies are instructed to promote the adoption of Ring and its connected app, Neighbors, which serves as a map interface for Ring cameras.
  • Reports reveal statements put out by local governments were written, or approved, by Ring. 
  • Some districts paid Amazon up to $100k to lower costs of Ring cameras for residents.

The letter argues that the partnerships are bereft of “oversight or accountability,” and calls for future deals to involve communities and elected official approval when deciding on the use of new public surveillance technology.

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