The Ring doorbell sold by Amazon offers homeowners security by filming and recording everyone who enters its field of vision. Along with the product comes access to a social network called Neighbors, where Ring users can share and discuss the footage their systems capture.
It is not just neighbors who share that footage, however. More and more often, law enforcement is making deals with Amazon and Ring users to obtain the security footage — even when no crime has occurred.
It’s quite concerning to imagine law enforcement having access to the personal security footage of every Ring doorbell owner, especially if the systems become widespread. That could potentially allow police to observe every corner of American life with no need for a warrant.
Even more concerning, however, is that Ring is planning to implement facial recognition technology. Moreover, Amazon is marketing Rekognition, its facial recognition software, to police departments. How surreal would it be for the police to be able to pull up your particular whereabouts at any given time?
Yet the problem isn’t just that such surveillance would be unprecedented, unnecessary and a violation of American civil liberties. There’s also the fact that facial recognition technologies have at least one serious flaw that isn’t being addressed: they’re very bad at recognizing people of color.
Facial recognition’s race problem
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union did a study on Rekognition. They fed in images of every member of Congress to see if they would match anyone in a database of mugshots. Much to the dismay of all involved, Rekognition incorrectly identified 28 members of Congress as people who had been arrested.
While the members of Congress who were misidentified included people from both parties, both men and women, and legislators of all ages, they were disproportionately people of color. Six — over 21% — were members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) recently penned a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressing his alarm that Amazon and Ring are pursuing facial recognition tech — and rolling it out while it is still so inaccurate.
He also pointed out that sharing Ring footage with police “could easily create a surveillance network that places dangerous burdens on people of color” and stoke “racial anxieties” I communities where the footage is shared. And, he expressed concern about the civil liberties of innocent passersby who don’t know they are under surveillance.
Markey is asking for a list of all the police agencies that are accessing Ring footage, along with Amazon’s facial recognition technology plan.
We’re in a period of extremely low crime. Why is law enforcement stepping up surveillance of innocent people?