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Police deals with Amazon's Ring under fire over surveillance concerns

A house made from an Amazon box.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A chorus of civil rights and privacy groups is calling on U.S. cities to end partnerships with Amazon's Ring camera unit, saying the deals raise a range of privacy, discrimination and other concerns.

Why it matters: Per the Washington Post, more than 400 agencies have deals with the Amazon subsidiary.

Driving the news: More than 30 civil rights and privacy groups have signed an open letter calling for an end to such deals, saying the partnerships "threaten civil liberties, privacy and civil rights, and exist without oversight or accountability."

"The letter calls for future deals to involve "community engagement" and approval by elected officials."

"To that end, we call on mayors and city councils to require police departments to cancel any and all existing Amazon Ring partnerships, and to pass surveillance oversight ordinances that will deter police departments from entering into such agreements in the future."
— Open letter from 30+ civil rights groups

How it works:

  • Ring has been striking deals with cities that give their police agencies access to a map of Ring cameras from which they can request footage. Per Vice, Ring often gets the agencies involved in the marketing of the Amazon security cameras, either directly or indirectly.
  • Concerns with the deals include everything from a lack of transparency, to the fact that taxpayer money is sometimes used to buy or subsidize devices to the potential for racial profiling and discrimination.
  • You can see a map of some of the cities with Ring deals here.

The big picture: Alliances between law enforcement and tech companies, such as Palantir's contracts with local police departments, have a history of raising hackles, and rising concerns in the U.S. over privacy have put some consumers on edge about tech that tracks their moves.

  • Meanwhile, authoritarian governments around the world — from China to the Middle East — are racing to deploy advanced technology like facial recognition combined with video surveillance to cow dissent.

What they're saying:

  • Evan Greer, deputy director, Fight for the Future: "Amazon is building a for-profit surveillance empire that completely skirts the democratic process. These partnerships are spreading extremely fast."
  • Alex Marthews, national chair of Restore The Fourth, in a statement: “This isn't about fighting actual crime. This is about the paranoid and mostly white notion that owners of homes and businesses aren't safe unless the police are pro-actively watching every square inch of public space."
  • Amazon: "Ring'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. We have taken care to design these features in a way that keeps users in control and protects their privacy. "

Go deeper: Tech trade groups oppose facial recognition ban