At least 200 law enforcement agencies around the country have entered into partnerships with Amazon’s home surveillance company Ring, according to an email obtained by Motherboard via public record request.
Ring has never disclosed the exact number of partnerships that it maintains with law enforcement. However, the company has partnered with at least 200 law enforcement agencies, according to notes taken by a police officer during a Ring webinar, which he emailed to himself in April. It’s possible that the number of partnerships has changed since the day the email was sent.
The officer who sent the email told Motherboard that the email was a transcribed version of handwritten notes that he took during a team webinar with a Ring representative on April 9. Additional emails obtained by Motherboard indicate that this webinar trained officers on how to use the "Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal." This portal allows local police to see a map with the approximate locations of all Ring cameras in a neighborhood, and request footage directly from camera owners. Owners need to consent, but police do not need a warrant to ask for footage.
The email obtained by Motherboard was sent from the Waynesboro, Virginia Chief of Police to himself in an email with the subject line “Neighbors by RING notes.” The email ends with the name and phone number of a Ring Neighborhood’s Training Manager, responsible for communicating with police and training them on the use of Ring products. The email is dated April 16.
Ring did not respond to Motherboard’s requests for comment.
Partnerships between Ring and law enforcement agencies, like local and county police departments, typically involve the company donating free doorbell cameras to police and providing them with a Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal.
Motherboard has reported that some of these partnerships require police to promote Ring to their local communities, with police earning credit toward free Ring cameras for each resident who downloads Ring's app as a result of the partnership.
Motherboard has also reported that Neighbors, Ring’s free “neighborhood watch” app, has an issue with racial profiling. The app allows people to post about “Suspicious” people or “Strangers” in their community. When Motherboard documented every post on the app for three months in a 5-mile radius from our Williamsburg office, Motherboard found that the targets of these posts are usually people of color. Unlike the Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal, which is available only to police, Neighbors is available to the general public.
Motherboard also obtained a memorandum of understanding between Ring and the Waynesboro Police Department dated February 25 of this year. The document requires Ring to make the already-free Neighbors app available to residents for free, and make the Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal available to police for free.
A confidential memorandum of understanding published by Motherboard last week requires the Lakeland Florida police department to, “Engage the Lakeland community with outreach efforts on the platform to encourage adoption of the platform/app.” It also stipulates that police “keep the terms of this program confidential.”
The Waynesboro Police Department received 15 free doorbell cameras from Ring. Ring also gave police an incentive program: For every resident that downloaded the Ring “neighborhood watch” app Neighbors due to the partnership, the police department would get credit toward getting more free cameras for residents: “Each qualifying download will count as $10 towards these free Ring cameras.” A Ring doorbell camera currently costs $130 on Amazon.
Previous reporting by Motherboard has suggested that there are several dozen partnerships around the country between Ring and law enforcement agencies. A map published last week by digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future identified 31 law enforcement agencies that have partnered with Ring.
“This doesn't surprise me at all, and it's the perfect example of how corporate surveillance and government surveillance are inextricably linked,” Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, told Motherboard. “Amazon is building a for-profit surveillance dragnet and partnering with local law enforcement agencies in ways that avoid any form of oversight or accountability that police departments might normally be required to adhere to.”
Ring has also collaborated with law enforcement on a series of package theft “sting operations” around the country. These operations—which have occurred in Hayward, CA; Aurora, CO; Albuquerque, NM; Green Bay, WI; and Jersey City, NJ—are designed with the explicit goal of catching someone stealing a package on a Ring doorbell camera and apprehending them. In Albuquerque, NM, Amazon even provided package loss heat maps to police in order to plan the operation.
“It's time to come to grips with the fact that the 1984 dystopian future we all fear isn't something a future authoritarian government might impose,” Greer told Motherboard, “it's something that's being built right now, in plain sight, through partnerships between private companies and government agencies.”
The documents that informed this article are now public and viewable on Document Cloud.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.