By: Diane Bernard, Public News Service
RICHMOND, Va. — Civil rights groups are sounding the alarm about Amazon’s Ring doorbell system. Representatives from 30 activist groups recently signed an open letter to local and federal lawmakers urging them to curb the surveillance partnerships that Ring has with police departments.
Homeowners can use Ring to record video of anyone who comes to their front doors. Police officers are then coached by Amazon to request access to the private videos. Malachi Robinson, campaign director with Color of Change, which is one of the groups that signed the letter, said that could lead to civil liberties abuses.
“That creates such a power imbalance,” Robinson said. “Most people assume if a police officer asks you for something, they’re telling you that. So it becomes this workaround around the Fourth Amendment, around proper search and seizure, which is extremely disturbing. “
In response to the letter, the company said it has zero tolerance for abuse of its systems and added that technology makes neighborhoods safer.
More than 500 city police departments across the country, including 16 in Virginia, take part in Ring alliances. Robinson said once the surveillance footage is collected without a warrant, law enforcement can use it to conduct facial-recognition searches, target teenagers for minor drug possession or share it with other agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“In black and brown communities that have an extremely high police presence, this allows police another entryway to be able to just monitor people,” he said. “And it’s also a way for mistaken identities to happen.”
He added that Ring users are able to post the footage to Ring’s “Neighbors” social media app, where users can view and comment on videos.