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New Campaign Demands Congress Probe the 'Ever-Expanding Surveillance Empire' of Amazon

Over a dozen groups call for a full congressional investigation in the online giant citing threats to privacy, security, and civil liberties posed by Alexa, Ring, and Rekognition.

An Amazon Ring camera is pictured at Amazon headquarters on September 20, 2018 in Seattle.

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

Amazon must face a full congressional investigation to answer questions about threats posed by the company's "ever-expanding surveillance empire."

That's the demand from over a dozen groups who on Monday kicked off a campaign urging lawmakers to probe the digital giant's products including Alexa, Rekognition, and Ring over privacy, security, and civil liberties concerns.

"During this holiday season, people are going to buy Amazon's product unaware of the surveillance features and the threats they pose to their personal data and civil liberties," said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future. "Meanwhile, Amazon gains access to video footage and sensitive audio recordings from millions more Americans and their families."

"Amazon's surveillance empire," she added, "is spreading at an alarming rate."

Fight for the Future joins other groups including Color of Change, Council on American-Islamic Relations-SFBA, and CREDO Action in the Investigate Amazon campaign, which accuses the company of having a business model "all about using monopolistic practices to sweep up and exploit data from our private and public lives."

The groups say problems include the fact that Amazon's Alexa records surrounding conversations and its Rekognition technology allows law enforcement to tracks anyone's movement in public spaces.

Of particular concern are partnerships between Amazon and local police departments in which the tech company provides warrantless access to law enforcement from Ring doorbell cameras. That data can then be shared with agencies including ICE or used to target protesters. Such partnerships are of heightened concern for risk for black, brown, and low-income communities, which are already subjected to unjust policing practices.

Ring also threatens people's privacy, as bystanders who've given no consent have personal data recorded, and there are more general security concerns because Ring cameras don't use what is known as end-to-end encryption.

Jelani Drew, campaigner manager at CREDO Action, called Ring "a perfect yet horrifying example of how Amazon, in partnership with law enforcement, is effectively making each and every one of our homes an extension of the police."

In light of such threats, the campaign is urging people to tell their lawmakers, "Amazon needs to be held accountable. I'm calling on you to investigate Amazon."

The campaign began days after Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released "chilling" findings from his investigation into Ring. The senator said in a statement that "Ring's policies are an open door for privacy and civil liberty violations."

Fight for the Future's Greer pointed to that investigation in her statement Monday, saying it "confirms that Amazon has zero protections in place to protect our security and civil liberties."

"At this point," she said, "lawmakers need to escalate the investigation and hold hearings demanding answers and accountability from Amazon when it comes to their surveillance empire and monopolistic business practices."

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