Amazon’s home security company Ring has enlisted local police departments around the country to advertise its surveillance cameras in exchange for free Ring products and a “portal” that allows police to request footage from these cameras, a secret agreement obtained by Motherboard shows. The agreement also requires police to “keep the terms of this program confidential.”
Dozens of police departments around the country have partnered with Ring, but until now, the exact terms of these partnerships have remained unknown. A signed memorandum of understanding between Ring and the police department of Lakeland, Florida, and emails obtained via a public records request, show that Ring is using local police as a de facto advertising firm. Police are contractually required to “Engage the Lakeland community with outreach efforts on the platform to encourage adoption of the platform/app.”
In order to partner with Ring, police departments must also assign officers to Ring-specific roles that include a press coordinator, a social media manager, and a community relations coordinator.
Ring donated 15 free doorbell surveillance cameras to the Lakeland Police Department, and created a program to encourage people to download its “neighborhood watch” app, Neighbors. For every Lakeland resident that downloads Neighbors as a result of the partnership, the documents show, the Lakeland Police Department gets credit toward more free Ring cameras for residents: “Each qualifying download will count as $10 towards these free Ring cameras.” A Ring doorbell camera currently costs $130 on Amazon.
Police already have access to publicly-funded street cameras and investigative tools that help them track down almost any criminal suspect. But Ring cameras are proliferating in the private sphere, with close to zero oversight. Amazon is convincing people to self-surveil through aggressive, fear-based marketing, aided by de facto police endorsements and free Ring camera giveaways. Consumers are opting into surveillance. And police are more than eager to capitalize on this wealth of surveillance data.
The result of Ring-police partnerships is a self-perpetuating surveillance network: More people download Neighbors, more people get Ring, surveillance footage proliferates, and police can request whatever they want.
Chris Gilliard, a professor of English at Macomb Community College who studies digital redlining and discriminatory practices enabled by data mining, said in a phone call that this surveillance network can heighten fear of crime and put people’s lives at risk.
“When really powerful companies, or police for that matter, are incentivized to find crime, they’re going to find it no matter what,” Gilliard said. “It’ll ultimately shift the definition of what is a crime and lead to over-policing in some ways. Frankly, [it’s] the broken windows style that tends to harm marginalized communities more.”
THE MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING
The memorandum of understanding is pitched as “a solution to the Lakeland Police Department to help reduce crime and assist with investigations in your community.” The document, which includes an “Amazon Legal” watermark, was signed by Ring and Lakeland Police Department representatives on December 13, 2018.
The agreement gives the Lakeland Police Department access to Ring’s “Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal.” This portal is an interactive map that shows police all of the active Ring doorbell cameras in their town. The exact addresses of the doorbell cameras are hidden. Police can use the portal to directly interact with Ring doorbell camera owners and informally request footage for investigations, without a warrant.
Andrew Ferguson, a professor at the University of the District of Columbia School of Law, said in a phone call that products like Ring can remove typical due process. Typically, police have to get a warrant from a judge before collecting digital evidence. Ring’s Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal, given to police for free as a part of the agreement, lets police request footage directly from Ring owners.
“What people fundamentally misunderstand is that self-surveillance is potentially a form of government surveillance,” Ferguson said. “Because the information that you are collecting—you think to augment and improve your life—is one step away from being obtained by law enforcement to completely…….Read More>>