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In the age of surveillance, don’t give up your autonomy for security

Is it worth it to be sure little Johnny is the one who swiped your drone-delivered packages off your front steps? Wise up, people.

This article was published more than 1 year ago, information might not be accurate.

Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY

Home surveillance is now even easier since Amazon bought home security company Ring. Designed to give homeowners peace of mind, the cameras are motion-triggered, turning on and recording footage when something or someone crosses their path. To help take a bite out of crime, Ring has teamed up with over 400 police forces across the U.S. so that the home surveillance footage can be shared with investigating officers. As reported in The Washington Post, the way it will work is that if the police want access to the footage, Ring will ask the homeowner if it’s alright to share it, and once the request is approved, Ring would share it from their centralized database. This doesn’t seem like a system that could be used to infringe upon people’s rights at all.

At first glance, it looks sort of vaguely reasonable. Amazon, the largest supplier of basically everything, owns a home surveillance company that provides relatively low-cost home surveillance options for homeowners. The cameras record only when triggered, just like Alexa only listens when prompted. The footage goes to a Ring database, where it is stored for homeowners to playback when they so choose. Homeowners can then decide who else gets access that footage.

Ring uses facial recognition software as well, meaning that anyone who comes to a home where this surveillance tech is in use is tracked, their face analyzed and potentially compared to a database. Will this be in place all the time? Will all recordings be analyzed or only those the homeowner requests? Most of the time, when Ring’s motion sensor is triggered, it will not be a criminal who is being recorded, but a delivery person, a family member, a dog, perchance an errant leaf.

The American Civil Liberties Union asked questions back in 2018 when Amazon filed the patent for the Ring door technology. The patent application “undercuts Amazon’s own purported defence of its face surveillance product. The company has told the public that biometrics should only be used by law enforcement as an aid, not a replacement, to human judgment. But Amazon’s patent application is pushing the technology toward automation, removing human judgment from the identification process, and instead potentially relying on data, like arrest photos, that itself is a record of racially discriminatory policing.” Some cities are banning facial recognition from public housing, but Ring is not being enforced but opted for. It is a consumer surveillance product, much like teddy cams, but all out in the open.

Ring is not the first home surveillance tool Amazon has released in the name of convenience. Alexa and Echo are internal, AI-driven devices that appear to bend to a user’s every whim. You can use them to play tunes, or order more pretzels. Alexa listens for your every command. Because of how the software is designed, Alexa is always listening. Every sound Alexa picks up is sent to Amazon. According to Forbes, “every word you say to Alexa is sent to Amazon’s cloud service to be automatically transcribed before it can respond to your request including basic commands… nothing is processed on the device itself because it doesn’t have the necessary computing power and the intelligence on-board.” Will Amazon add Alexa or Echo data collection to what is made available to the police? Amazon says that this info is not recorded, but Apple told lawmakers it wasn’t listening back in 2018, and since then it turns out that yes, Apple really is listening, at least a little bit. Meanwhile, Amazon is shadier than Apple.

Amazon provides a platform for sellers, and takes no responsibility for items sold by those providers. It sold a motorcycle helmet that was faulty, resulting in a crash that killed the driver, and after admitting no fault, settled for $5,000. It is still selling the helmet. The Wall Street Journal found over 4,000 products for sale “that have been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labelled or are banned by federal regulators—items that big-box retailers’ policies would bar from their shelves. Among those items, at least 2,000 listings for toys and medications lacked warnings about health risks to children.” But once Amazon embraces the role of home supervision and arbiter of the stored surveillance footage, they’ll probably stop doing things wrong, right?

To keep track, we now have Amazon, a massive online retailer which has usurped local businesses all over the place and sells shoddy products via third, which has already successfully marketed and installed AI in homes that offer convenience via voice commands that work through recording and processing every word said in proximity of the devices, creating a home surveillance company that uses cameras to record all individuals who come to the home, analyzes their faces using divisive and controversial facial recognition tech, partnering with police departments to share the gathered information. What could possibly go wrong?

There is literally no point to the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution if individuals willingly record themselves, their friends, family, neighbours, and every word they say inside their own homes and allow the corporation that provides this ‘service’ to share that information with police. The Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

What if a homeowner refuses to share the info but the police get a warrant listing probable cause for surveillance the homeowner has not only previously authorized but initiated? Then everything you’ve ever said, and everyone who has ever come in and out of your front door, will be provided to the police. Your entire life will be interrogated, and for what? Just so you could play a Nirvana song without leaving your couch? Or so that you could be sure little Johnny is the one who swiped your drone-delivered packages off your front steps? Wise up, people, don’t let’s give away our autonomy and liberty because we dig the convenience.

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