The Washington Post has reported that there are currently more than 400 police departments across the United States who have entered into surveillance partnerships with Amazon’s camera enabled doorbell company, Ring. These partnerships pose a serious threat to civil rights and liberties, especially for black and brown communities already targeted and surveilled by law enforcement.
A key component of the partnership turns police departments into marketing agencies and police officers into salespeople for Amazon. Amazon provides officers with talking points to promote their technology and products to residents, and requests departments market the products at city events. While Amazon gives participating departments free products for promotion, the majority of the products are privately purchased from Amazon. In some municipalities taxpayer money has been used to subsidize Amazon surveillance products for residents’ use. On the back end, Amazon carefully scripts everything that authorities say about the program, and coaches police on the best talking points to get customers to hand over their footage.
With no oversight and accountability, Amazon’s technology creates a seamless and easily automated experience for police to request and access footage without a warrant, and then store it indefinitely. In the absence of clear civil liberties and rights-protective policies to govern the technologies and the use of their data, once collected, stored footage can be used by law enforcement to conduct facial recognition searches, target protesters exercising their First Amendment rights, teenagers for minor drug possession, or shared with other agencies like ICE or the FBI.
Amazon’s internal corporate policies raise serious privacy concerns. The Ring technology gives Amazon employees and contractors in the US and Ukraine direct access to customers’ live camera feeds, a literal eye inside their homes and areas surrounding their homes. These live feeds provide surveillance on millions of American families––from a baby in their crib to someone walking their dog to a neighbor playing with young children in their yard––and other bystanders that don’t know they are being filmed and haven’t given their consent. Additionally, the technology has no end-to-end encryption leaving this extremely private and sensitive footage vulnerable to cyber-attacks, stalkers, or foreign governments.
Amazon has not been transparent about plans to integrate facial recognition into Ring cameras. Amazon Ring has denied any connection between their technology and facial recognition software, but according to the Washington Post, Ring filed two patents in November 2018 “that describe technology with the ability to identify “suspicious people” and create a “database of suspicious persons.” Ring’s terms of service allow the company to “access and use your User Recordings” for “developing new Products and Services,” which covers facial recognition. The Information reported Ring’s Ukraine-based research team accessed customer’s surveillance footage to train image recognition software. As facial recognition software has been shown to disproportionately misidentify people of color, women and transgender people, it further compounds existing civil liberties concerns and expands suspected criminality centered in racial profiling and gender bias.
As Amazon continues to grow in influence, so do the costs and effects of their domination. Freedom of information requests reveal Amazon carefully scripted and regulated the talking points police departments could use in discussing the Amazon-police partnership. Departments were forbidden from using words like ‘surveillance’ in any communication related to the partnership. This level of censorship and control is indicative of Amazon’s business model of using monopolistic practices to vacuum up enormous amounts of data. That data is then leveraged to bolster Amazon’s corporate interests, often at the expense of local businesses and smaller competitors. Amazon’s latest encroachment with the Ring-police partnerships exemplify the company’s willingness to do what it takes to expand their data empire. Once they have this data, there is nothing stopping them from using it for their own profit-driven purposes.
Amazon Ring partnerships with police departments threaten civil liberties, privacy and civil rights, and exist without oversight or accountability. Given its significant risks, no surveillance partnerships with Amazon Ring should have been established, or should be established in the future, without substantial community engagement and input and elected official approval. To that end, we call on mayors and city councils to require police departments to cancel any and all existing Amazon Ring partnerships, and to pass surveillance oversight ordinances that will deter police departments from entering into such agreements in the future. We further call on Congress to investigate Ring’s practices and demand more transparency from the company.
Fight for the Future, Media Justice, Color of Change, Secure Justice, Demand Progress, Defending Rights & Dissent, Muslim Justice League, X-Lab, Media Mobilizing Project, Restore The Fourth, Inc., Media Alliance, Youth Art & Self Empowerment Project, Center for Human Rights and Privacy, Oakland Privacy, Justice For Muslims Collective, The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Nation Digital Inclusion Alliance, Project On Government Oversight, OpenMedia, Council on American-Islamic Relations-SFBA, Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, MPower Change, Mijente, Access Humboldt, RAICES, National Immigration Law Center, The Tor Project, United Church of Christ, Office of Communication Inc., the Constitutional Alliance, RootsAction.org, CREDO Action, Presente.org, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and United We Dream.
Festivals including Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Pitchfork, Riot Fest, The Governors Ball, and Wanderlust have already stated they are not and do not plan to use invasive and racially biased face scanning technology
Digital rights group Fight for the Future iscalling on major music festival sponsors to pull their support for festivals including Coachella, Bumbershoot, and Hangout Music Fest after their parent company, AEG Presents, the second largest event company in the US, failed to state whether it is using controversial facial recognition on fans.
Major festivals like Pitchfork, The Governors Ball, Riot Fest, Bonnaroo, and Austin City Limits issued statements making it clear they have no plans to use invasive and racially biased facial recognition technology. On Wednesday, Insomniac Events, producers of blockbuster EDM festivals including Electric Daisy Carnival, Beyond Wonderland, and Okeechobee, issued the same statement. Paradiso Fest, Sonic Bloom, Summer Meltdown, Lucidity Festival and Punk Rock Bowling posted their commitment to not use the tech publicly.
Goldenvoice, who runs Coachella as a subsidiary of AEG Presents, explicitly refused to comment when asked to clarify their current policies and future plans regarding the use of facial recognition, saying “we are not looking to add to this conversation at this time.” This non-statement has fueled concerns among activists and music fans that they may be currently experimenting with facial recognition or planning to use it in the future.
The webpage helps concerned music fans to tweet nine major sponsors, including Pandora, Corona, Coca Cola, Uber, and Bose to ask them to suspend their support until the events make their position clear.
“Over the past two weeks, hundreds of fans have used our site to email or tweet AEG Presents events, and we’ve made multiple attempts to contact the organization for a statement,” said Evan Greer, Deputy Director of Fight for the Future (pronouns: she/her). “They are definitely aware that their customers are concerned. Live Nation issued a statement to us two weeks ago, and the longer AEG takes to respond, the more concern grows. People deserve to know whether attending Coachella, Jazz Fest, or any AEG event puts them at risk of having their actions at those events in a permanent government database. Facial recognition, even when used in an opt-in manner, poses serious threats to privacy and civil liberties. It’s systematically misidentifies people of color, exacerbating existing forms of discrimination, and it’s been used by ICE to target undocumented families. AEG should clearly commit to not using this invasive and racially biased technology on music fans. They should never put our safety and basic rights at risk just to collect our data and turn it into profit.”
Ticketmaster / Live Nation issued a statement confirming that it is not currently using facial recognition at its events, a positive step given that they previously invested in the technology. But troublingly, they explicitly left the door open to future use on an “opt in” basis, something security and human rights experts warn does not alleviate the concerns with mass collection of sensitive biometric information. All commitments not to use the technology to date are listed on a scorecard on the Ban Facial Recognition website.
Facial recognition is not widespread at music events in the US. But Ticketmaster and other event companies have previously lauded their partnerships in the controversial technology, and even smaller bars and venues are experimenting with it. Reports show Madison Square Garden is already using facial recognition surveillance.
“I don’t want Big Brother at my shows targeting fans for harassment, deportation, or arrest. That’s why I’m joining this campaign calling on @Ticketmaster and others not to use #facialrecognition at festivals and concerts,” Tom Morello, legendary guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and Prophets of Rage, tweeted in support of the campaign.
“Facial recognition surveillance is uniquely dangerous. It doesn’t keep fans or artists safe, it just subjects them to invasive, racially biased monitoring that will inevitably lead to fans getting harassed, falsely arrested, deported, or worse,“ Fight for the Future’s Evan Greer added, "We’re calling on all artists, venues, festivals, and promoters to stick up for their fans’ basic rights and safety by speaking out against the use of Big Brother style biometric surveillance at live music events.”
The campaign is part of Fight for the Future’s broader BanFacialRecognition.com campaign, which has been endorsed my more than 30 major grassroots civil rights organizations including Greenpeace, Color of Change, Daily Kos, United We Dream, Council on American Islamic Relations, MoveOn, and Free Press. The groups are calling for local, state, and federal lawmakers to ban law enforcement use of facial recognition. Several cities have already banned the controversial technology outright, including San Francisco, Somerville, MA, and Oakland, CA, and there is growing bipartisan support in Congress to address the issue at the federal level.
Congress has no excuse and must pass the Save the Internet Act. Internet activists will continue fighting at the state level and demand that all 2020 candidates commit to fully restoring real net neutrality protections
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 1, 2019 Contact: Evan Greer, 978-852-6457, firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned key parts of the FCC’s resoundingly unpopular repeal of net neutrality, including its attempt to preempt states from passing their own open Internet protections. The decision also forces the FCC to assess the impact of the repeal on public safety, and condemns the agency for failing to do so.
The FCC repeal was met with unprecedented backlash from all corners of the Internet, from internet companies like Reddit, Tumblr, and Mozilla, to activists, entrepreneurs, celebrities, US veterans, and small businesses. Net neutrality has overwhelming bipartisan support, with 86 percent of Americans opposing its repeal in 2017, making it the FCC’s most unpopular action in modern history. The public backlash against the wildly unpopular vote has raged on since the repeal.
Fight for the Future, a digital rights organization that has led many of the largest online protests in history for net neutrality and Internet freedom, issued the following statement, which can be attributed to Deputy Director, Evan Greer (pronouns she/her):
“More and more, people are realizing there are things they hate about the Internet. But net neutrality is the basic principle that makes possible all the stuff we actually love about the Internet. It’s the foundation of online freedom, creativity, and fairness. The battle for the future of the web is a defining issue of our generation, and this court decision should light a fire under all of us. Internet: get ready to fight.
“All eyes are now on the Senate to do its job and pass the Save The Internet Act to fully restore net neutrality. Mitch McConnell and senators opposing net neutrality have absolutely no excuse. If they don’t allow a vote on the bill to restore the open Internet, they’re exposing themselves as corrupt shills for the telecom industry. Similarly, every single 2020 presidential candidate must immediately commit to fully restoring net neutrality protections if elected.
“Meanwhile, the court decision creates a huge opportunity and a clear path forward for us to fight to restore net neutrality state by state. We fought for and won the strongest net neutrality protections in the country in California with overwhelming bipartisan support, and now we can copy and paste that strategy across the country. Comcast and AT&T are terrified of this exact scenario, so they’ll undoubtedly swarm Washington, DC and attempt to ram through trojan horse legislation that permanently guts net neutrality and prevents states from acting. We’ll be ready to stop them.
“Telecom lobbyists knew they would outspend us, but they will never outlast us. Activists for a free and open Internet will continue to fight in the courts, in Congress, and in the states until we reclaim a free and open Internet for all. Now, we need all hands on deck at every level to beat back Big Cable’s inevitable attacks and reclaim the Internet.”
This decision comes in the wake of broad public protest against the repeal a year after it went into effect. On June 11th, over 3.5 million people and a coalition of over 100 organizations called on the Senate to pass the Save the Internet Act to reverse the FCC’s vote. Fight for the Future also held an epic, all-day livestream featuring small businesses, US veterans, celebrities, internet companies, and activists united in calling for net neutrality.
While the worst impacts of the repeal had been kept at bay by the ongoing litigation and scrutiny, big ISPs had already started exploring what they can get away with in a post net neutrality world. In just the last year, they have throttled the California firefighters’ data in the midst of deadly wildfires, slowed streaming speeds to popular websites like YouTube and Netflix, and blocked internet access to force customers to view specific ads.
Fight for the Future staff are available for comment about what today’s court decision means for the net neutrality fight ahead.
At a surprise appearance following Amazon’s annual product launch yesterday, CEO and wealthiest human alive Jeff Bezos told reportersthat his company is writing its own facial recognition laws.
This is no surprise. Digital rights activists have been warningthat Silicon Valley’s calls to “regulate” facial recognition are a trap, designed to hasten the widespread adoption of this invasive and harmful technology by implementing weak regulations that assuage public concern without putting a dent in corporate profits.
“Amazon wants to write the laws governing facial recognition to make sure they’re friendly to their surveillance driven business model,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, “But this type of technology is uniquely dangerous. It poses a profound threat to the future of human liberty that can’t be mitigated by industry-friendly regulations. We need to draw a line in the sand and ban governments from using this technology before it’s too late. We know that members of Congress are currently drafting legislation related to facial recognition, and we hope they know that the public will not accept trojan horse regulations that line Jeff Bezos’ pockets at the expense of all of our basic human rights.”
Last month Fight for the Future launched ourBanFacialRecognition.comcampaign, along with an interactive map showing where in the US facial recognition surveillance is being used, and also where there are local and state efforts to ban it. Since then, 30+ organizations including MoveOn, Greenpeace, Daily Kos, Color of Change, and CAIR have endorsed that campaign. San Francisco, Somerville, MA, and Oakland, CA, recently became the first cities in the country to ban the technology. Berkeley, CA and Cambridge, MA are also considering bans, and bills to halt current use of the tech are moving in the Massachusetts, New York, California, and Michigan legislatures. In Congress, there is growing bipartisan agreement to address the issue, but it could easily stall under pressure from law enforcement and big tech.
Backlash to facial recognition continues to spread. This week, many of the world’s largest music festivals committed to not using the technology after Fight for the Future launched a campaignbacked by prominent artists including Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. 2020 presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke have both echoed the call for a federal ban on law enforcement use of facial recognition. Sweden recently banned the use of facial recognition in schools, and lawmakers in the UK are considering hitting the breaks on the tech.
Fight for the Future, which is a non-profit that does not endorse candidates for office, opposes attempts by the tech industry and law enforcement to pressure Congress to pass an industry-friendly “regulatory framework” for facial recognition that would allow this dangerous technology to spread quickly with minimal restrictions intended to assuage public opposition. But we support narrower efforts to ban or restrict specifically egregious uses of this surveillance, such as a bill introduced recently to ban the use of facial recognition in public housing. For more on our position, read our op-ed in Buzzfeed News: “Don’t regulate facial recognition. Ban it.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, September 25th Contact: Evan Greer, email@example.com, 978-852-6457
Amazon statements on privacy do not address growing privacy and civil liberties concerns surrounding controversial Ring-police partnerships
Today, Amazon held their annual product launch amid growing concerns about the company’s internal privacy practices, as well as controversial surveillance partnerships between Amazon Ring and local police departments.
Amazon announced “Home Mode” feature for its Ring doorbells. The feature is intended to prevent Ring from recording audio or video footage when residents are home. Of course this does nothing to address the privacy and civil liberties concerns of Ring doorbells recording their neighbors or their neighbor’s children without their knowledge or consent.
“We can’t trust Amazon when it comes to privacy. Amazon claims “customers control their data” yet they had plans for 911 calls to trigger all Ring cameras in the surrounding neighborhood to wake up and start recording. This is what Amazon does. They make empty statements to sell their products and then continue to build a for-profit, surveillance dragnet without oversight and accountability,” says Evan Greer, deputy director of digital rights group Fight for the Future.
Amazon-Ring has entered into partnerships with police departments in over 400 cities, most of the were entered into without any debate or approval from local elected officials or the community. These partnerships provide an end run around the democratic process and pose serious privacy and civil liberties threats. Amazon gives police a warrantless process for requesting and storing unlimited footage, giving them a literal eye inside residents’ homes and the surrounding area, and in exchange, the police department markets Amazon’s surveillance technology. US Senator Ed Markey sent a letter to Jeff Bezos asking questions about the partnerships, and even The Monitoring Association, a security industry trade association, issued a statement expressing concern.
Fight for the Future has launched a national campaign calling on local elected officials to cancel police departments’ existing partnerships with Amazon Ring and enact policies to prevent them from doing so in the future.