No, it's not Amazon that "helps police to build surveillance networks"

Don’t look just at for-profit companies doing their job. Look at those who don’t.

No, it's not Amazon that "helps police to build surveillance networks" /img/amazon-ring-spying.jpg

A few days ago I discovered through this tweet “a great account of [a] public/private union that is particularly dangerous”:

“Ring helps police avoid roadblocks for surveillance technology, whether a lack of funding or the public’s concerns about privacy.”

What does the police do with Ring?

According to a CNET article “Police departments across the US… have offered free or discounted Ring doorbells to citizens, sometimes using taxpayer funds to pay for Amazon’s products.”

The offspring of this “perfect marriage between law enforcement and one of the world’s biggest companies” is an environment in which:

  • [police and city administrations] circumvent public scrutiny, as well as privacy regulations, while saving public money (Ring cameras start at $99).
  • the citizens themselves “financially subsidize” privacy violations in their communities, paying to become “the nosy neighbor looking out the window with their binoculars”
  • a public organization (the police) helps Amazon to make more money, through Ring subscriptions

To make things more… interesting,, even if the users of Ring doorbells do not share their footage via a dedicated app, the police can:

  • knock on doors asking for footage in person. In such cases… “Even if you’re the biggest civil libertarian, you will feel compelled to turn that footage over.”
  • feed any Ring footage they get to, for example, automated license plate readers, to track vehicles as they move from one Ring camera to the next.

Creepy, isn’t it? I believe, however, that it is not Ring, or even Amazon, who is to blame here.

NO IT IS NOT “RING”. It is not even Amazon, or the police.

The article says also that, by pushing the Ring doorbells, “[police is] “basically commandeering people’s homes as surveillance outposts for law enforcement”.

But this is not (yet) the police’s fault. It is not Amazon’s fault. This happens because of people (maybe while screaming whenever they hear “tax raises”) voluntarily paying to put this stuff on their doors. The real problem with this particular item in Amazon’s “Life-as-a-service catalog” is that it is like passive smoking: it doesn’t hurt just those paying to use it on themselves, but everybody else who lives around there.

Neighborhood “community-driven” surveillance? It’s good if…

Please note that I am not against the idea of neighbors cooperating to make their communities safer. Quite the contrary, actually. The more that happens, the better. I’m all for it… as long as it is stays among the citizens themselves. I also see that many neighborhoods would need city-funded, top-down solutions for automatic monitoring because:

  • city and police budgets do not allow for personal, continuous presence in those streets
  • the residents of those same neighborhoods would never implement video monitoring services by themselves, for lack of money or… interest in monitoring local suspect actvities.

But that is a different issue. So…

Say yes to community -owned and -managed doorbells and webcams that keep all footage locally, for a limited time (23 weeks?) and never pass any of it to any third party, only to law enforcement with a court order, for specific uses.

Say yes to city or state-funded webcam-based street monitoring programs that give solid guarantees that they work in the same way.

But just say NO to anything like this. Just no. Really.