Thirty-six civil rights organizations signed an open letter demanding local, state, and federal officials to end partnerships between Ring, Amazon’s home surveillance company, and over 405 law enforcement agencies around the country.
The open letter, which was published yesterday by digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, also demands municipalities to pass surveillance oversight ordinances in order to "deter" police from partnering with companies like Ring in the future. The letter also calls on Congress to investigate Ring's practices.
The open letter escalates the petition campaign that Fight for the Future launched in August, which called on civilians to petition their local officials to stop, halt, or ban any police partnerships with Ring.
The signatories of the open letter include privacy advocacy groups like Media Justice, the Tor Project, and Media Mobilizing Project, and racial justice coalition like The Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Mijente, and the American-Arab Anti-Discriimnination Committee. The open letter points out that the proliferation of privatized surveillance cameras like Ring, which make it easy for law enforcement to request footage without a warrant, disproportionately puts marginalized and over-policed communities of color at risk.
“There’s been a lot of reporting and general discussion about these surveillance partnerships and the potential risks to privacy and civil liberties,” Evan Greer deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a phone call. “But this is the first time that a major coalition of significant organizations are explicitly calling on elected officials to do something about it.”
Ring denied many of the letter's claims.
When Ring partners with police, the company provides police with a tool called the Law Enforcement Neighborhoods Portal. This tool is an interactive map that allows police to request footage directly from residents, streamlining the process of voluntary evidence sharing. The map previously showed the approximate location of Ring users in a heat map, but the heat map interface was removed in August, according to an email from Ring.
As reported by Motherboard, police then have to make an exchange. Some police have to promote Ring either implicitly, through only speaking about Ring in company-approved statements and providing download links to Ring’s “neighborhood watch” app, Neighbors. Others must promote it explicitly, by signing agreements stipulating that police must “encourage adoption” of Ring cameras and Neighbors.
The open letter points out that some cities subsidize discounts on Ring cameras. As reported by Motherboard, some cities have paid up to $100,000 of taxpayer money in order to fund these discount programs.
Greer said that the letter acts on an urgent need for local lawmakers to ask questions about Ring, and federal lawmakers to formally investigate the company’s practices.
“Our elected officials in Congress, at the very least, have to be asking what the implications for our country are if a company like Amazon is able to exponentially increase the number of cameras in our neighborhoods, and at the same time, enter into these cozy partnerships with law enforcement,” Greer said. ‘“There’s no oversight for what [police] can do with [data] once they collect it.”
A Ring spokesperson said in an email statement that the company'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," Ring said. "We have taken care to design these features in a way that keeps users in control and protects their privacy."
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Update Oct. 8: This story has been updated to include comment from Ring.
Update Oct. 10: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Ring disputes many of the letter's claims.