No fewer than 30 civil rights organizations have now penned an open letter calling for an end to partnerships between Amazon's Ring and police. The letter, first reported by CNET, cites reports stemming from claims made by Amazon that it has partnered with more than 400 such departments in the U.S. It claims that those partnerships pose a threat to civil rights and liberties.
That threat isn't spread equally either, the groups claim. Instead, joint organizations point to the risk posed to minority communities. Those groups are "already targeted and surveilled by law enforcement," the letter states.
It also calls out the apparent subjugation of police officers and departments as part of a wider marketing campaign. Amazon is said to provide agencies with materials and talking points to promote the use of Ring products. That includes talking points it says are used to get users to turn over privately held footage to police.
A lack of oversight or accountability, the groups continue, only serves to make matters worse — citing widespread concerns about draconian surveillance of the U.S. populace.
The letter is specifically intended to address officials at every level rather than the police or Amazon. The groups are expressly calling on mayors and city councils especially to end the partnerships. They also ask that ordinances are passed to prevent similar partnerships in the future. Driving that point further, the group is demanding that Congress investigate Ring's practices.
Finally, the organizations are demanding a higher level of transparency from the company itself.
Ring police partnerships have sparked civil rights infringement concerns since inception
This isn't the first time either Ring or Amazon has been called out over concerns about civil liberties. A growing number of reports have sounded the alarm on what is widely viewed as an infringement on that front. Those chiefly stem from the use of surveillance worldwide.
Regions such as China have repeatedly been at the center of civil rights controversies over the use of technology by the state to monitor citizens. As IoT and AI technology has progressed, and with the advent of 5G, those efforts are advancing too. In some cases, the data collection has been used to suppress dissent or conduct similar activities.
For the most part, it's the very nature of the surveillance that has been called to question. Without oversight, there's no clear and defined limit to what companies are storing, sharing, or viewing. When government agencies become involved in the surveillance, further red flags are raised.
Concerns have not solely involved Amazon either. Google was forced to end partnership projects with both the U.S. and Chinese governments within the last year.
Among recent reports specifically pertaining to Amazon, there are plenty of examples to choose from that could signal a feasible descent into a similar situation. In one example, a program initially spawned out of a need to catch package thieves didn't result in any arrests. But it did result in a wider reach for the surveillance program itself — and additional subsequent surveillance.
The letter is intended to end that spread and discover just how far the programs started by Amazon have gone. Perhaps more importantly, it's intended to spur action to prevent the issue from growing into a problem.
Amazon has since responded to the letter, claiming that crime is reduced in neighborhoods where Ring — and presumably the program — has been introduced. It also says that the letter's claims are "categorically false" and that the free tool is intended to help build strong relationships between police and communities.
Previously, the company has navigated controversy by indicating that users are kept in complete control of the surveillance features. It's also gone so far as to claim that it will come down hard on agencies that force users to turn over their data against their will. Amazon reiterated that user control is central to the design of Ring products in its latest response too.