Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Amazon’s Ring Is the Largest Civilian Surveillance Network the U.S. Has Ever Seen

Lauren Bridges, in an editorial for the Guardian:

Data I’ve collected from Ring’s quarterly reported numbers shows that in the past year through the end of April 2021, law enforcement have placed more than 22,000 individual requests to access content captured and recorded on Ring cameras. Ring’s cloud-based infrastructure (supported by Amazon Web Services) makes it convenient for law enforcement agencies to place mass requests for access to recordings without a warrant. Because Ring cameras are owned by civilians, law enforcement are given a backdoor entry into private video recordings of people in residential and public space that would otherwise be protected under the fourth amendment. By partnering with Amazon, law enforcement circumvents these constitutional and statutory protections, as noted by the attorney Yesenia Flores. In doing so, Ring blurs the line between police work and civilian surveillance and turns your neighbor’s home security system into an informant. Except, unlike an informant, it’s always watching.

This is what I meant when I wrote yesterday that there is little meaningful difference between a surveillance system that police can access and one that they outright control.

In tangentially related news, Amazon has indefinitely delayed selling its facial recognition software to police departments. But what difference does it make when Amazon’s client list for Rekognition includes, for example, Utility? It’s a company that sells body cameras to police departments, and its CTO gave this testimonial to Amazon:

Amazon Rekognition video enables us to run proximity ​search within our AVaiLWEB application ​for persons of interest (including missing persons) from a live stream video as well as previously recorded incidents.

What functional difference is there between a private company contracted by a police department to run facial recognition searches using Amazon’s software, and the police department running that search themselves? The line begins to blur.