Amazon's Ring camera raises congressional concern about civil liberties

Amazon's Ring camera raises congressional concern about civil liberties

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Democratic Senator Edward Markey raised concerns on Thursday that law enforcement use of Amazon.com Inc.'s Ring doorbell camera in investigations could disproportionately affect people of color and encourage racial profiling.

In a letter to Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, Markey said sharing information from Ring's at-home camera systems with police departments “could easily create a surveillance network that places dangerous burdens on people of color” and stoke “racial anxieties” in communities where it works with law enforcement.

Markey, the ranking member on the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Security, said he was “alarmed to learn that Ring is pursuing facial recognition technology” and that Amazon was marketing its facial recognition technology Rekognition to police departments.

Ring declined to comment.

Facial recognition technology has been shown to disproportionately misidentify people of color. In a 2018 American Civil Liberties Union study, Rekognition incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress, including Markey, to a database of 25,000 publicly available arrest photos.

Markey cited civil liberties concerns about “countless bystanders who may be unaware that they are being filmed” by Ring cameras.

Ring products include at-home camera surveillance systems and a social network called Neighbors for users to share and discuss footage captured on its cameras.

Markey asked Bezos for a list of all law enforcement entities with access to Ring footage, and for the company's plans to add facial recognition technology.

The Washington Post reported last week that Ring has forged video-sharing partnerships with more than 400 police forces across the United States, granting them potential access to homeowners’ camera footage and a powerful role in what the company calls the nation’s “new neighborhood watch.”

In the St. Louis area, several police departments, including Florissant and St. Charles, have launched voluntary community camera programs, encouraging residents to register their video surveillance systems. The North County Police Cooperative recently announced plans to distribute free Ring cameras to residents of Vinita Park, Pine Lawn and Wellston. The St. Louis County Police Department announced in June it was joining the free Neighbors app by Ring.

The Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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