On Tuesday, Jackson, Mississippi's city council signed off on a 45-day pilot program that would let police access Ring surveillance cameras in real time.
In partnership with technology companies PILEUM and Fūsus, the pilot program will run through the police department’s surveillance hub, the Real Time Crime Center, from which Jackson’s police department can stream Ring surveillance camera footage.
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told WLBT-TV the hope is to better “follow and trace” suspects at the site of a crime. "We'll be able to get a location, draw a circle around it, and pull up every camera within a certain radius to see if someone runs out of a building,” he said
“Ultimately, what will happen is residents and businesses will be able to sign a waiver, if they want their camera to be accessed from the Real Time Crime Center,” Lumumba told WLBT-TV. “It would save [us] from having to buy a camera for every place across the city.”
This may come as a surprise to those who remember that just a few months ago, Jackson was the first city in the South to ban police from using facial recognition technology. Amazon’s Ring subsidiary has made numerous successful inroads with police across the U.S., however, and police are continuing to warm up to the technology.
"This was always inevitable with the popularity and advent of products like Ring, which I would argue are fundamentally incompatible with basic human rights and democracy,” Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, told Motherboard. “It's not inevitable that this spreads, though. This is a pilot program, the first of its kind, and if we can mobilize a massive grassroots backlash to it, I think we can shut it down.
Fight for the Future has launched a petition to help mobilize opposition to Jackson’s surveillance hub pilot program. So far, according to WBLTV, the pilot is limited to five public and five private recording devices.
In a statement to Motherboard, a Ring Spokesperson said "This is not a Ring program and Ring is not working with any of the companys or the city in connection with this program."
The Mayor of Jackson's office declined to comment. Jackson’s police department did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
Fūsus, a Georgia-based company which styles itself as "the first company to unify live video, data and sensor feeds from virtually any source" offers cloud services that Lumumba said will be important to "allow us to connect into cameras." PILEUM is a Jackson-based company that describes itself as an "IT Consulting and Systems integration firm."
Many states, including Mississippi, have CCTV laws that restrict a home's or businesses' surveillance to its own property and not the surrounding area. Jackson’s surveillance hub has already raised concerns among the public about possible privacy and a lack of evidence that such surveillance actually has an impact on crime.
"A more traditional surveillance camera company, when they go to a business to set up cameras, they ensure that cameras are positioned correctly to comply with those types of laws so they don't get sued,” Greer told Motherboard. “Ring just sends it to a homeowner in a box, you stick it on your door, and somewhere buried in their terms of service they admit you should comply with your state laws when you install it. But they know damn well that thousands and thousands of Ring owners are not doing that, and as a result surveilling people who have not given their consent or who don't know."
Jackson is operating this pilot program without Amazon’s input, demonstrating just how deeply Ring has penetrated communities, spreading fear and paranoia and raising privacy concerns.
"It's corrosive to our communities to be enlisting people as informants," Greer added. "Creating a surveillance dragnet falsely gives this sense of consent for something that should be decided by the community, but instead pits neighbors against each other. It's all a part of a corrosive ideology for these types of platforms—not just Ring but Citizen or Nextdoor—that are about snitching on each other. We should reject that.”