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Fueling Calls for Ban, Even a Security Industry Group Thinks Police Partnerships With Amazon Ring Are Dangerous

"When an industry association that represents security and surveillance camera companies thinks that your practices are too invasive and lack transparency, that really says something."

An Amazon Ring camera is pictured at Amazon Headquarters on September 20, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

A security industry trade group on Wednesday joined civil liberties advocates in denouncing agreements between more than 200 police departments across the U.S. and Amazon Ring, the tech giant's line of home surveillance products.

"This should be setting off alarm bells for local elected officials in the hundreds of cities that already have these partnerships," said Evan Greer, deputy director of digital rights group Fight for the Future. 

The Monitoring Association (TMA) said it was "troubled" by Amazon's failure to notify customers that police departments are being called on to promote the company's home video surveillance systems. In return for the free marketing by public servants, Amazon's product allows police access to interactive Ring features which allows them to request footage from homeowners without a warrant.

"We are troubled by recent reports of agreements that are said to drive product-specific promotion, without alerting consumers about these marketing relationships," TMA president Ivan Spector said in a statement, according to a CNET report on Thursday. "This lack of transparency goes against our standards as an industry, diminishes public trust, and takes advantage of these public servants."

Fight for the Future said TMA's comments should be "embarrassing" for Amazon.

"When an industry association that represents security and surveillance camera companies thinks that your practices are too invasive and lack transparency, that really says something," said Greer. "Mayors and city councils should take immediate action to stop these for-profit surveillance deals and have real community dialogues before pursuing anything like this in the future."

Shreyas Gandlur, a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published a map Thursday showing 231 towns and cities where police have partnered with Amazon Ring.

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According to a study by Motherboard in February, the "neighborhood watch" app which comes with Ring encourages racial profiling. Users are able to upload images from their Ring surveillance footage and identify people in the videos as "suspicious." Motherboard reported that between December 2018 and February 2019, the majority of images labeled "suspicious" in the "virtual gated community" of the Neighbors app were people of color.

"Amazon is building a privately run, for-profit surveillance state—and they're getting local police to market it for them in exchange for VIP access to Amazon's on-demand surveillance system," said Fight for the Future.

Other rights advocates expressed similar concerns about Amazon's surveillance ventures.

Fight for the Future is calling on supporters to demand that local elected officials ban partnerships between police departments and Amazon, noting that as a powerful private company, Amazon has been able to develop a surveillance system that any local lawmaking body would have to approve if local law enforcement pursued the same kind of system.

"Amazon has found the perfect end-run around the democratic process," Fight for the Future said. "But mayors and city officials have the power to stop police from entering into these partnerships, which is why we are calling on local elected officials to ban and stop these deceptive partnerships."

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