A U.S. House subcommittee that oversees consumer protection and information security in the private sector is pursuing a deeper understanding of how Ring’s partnerships with local and state law enforcement agencies in the U.S. mesh with the constitutional protections that are afforded Americans against unbridled government surveillance.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on economic and consumer policy, is seeking to learn why, in more than 700 jurisdictions, police have signed contracts that surrender control over what city officials can say publicly about the Amazon-owned company. In a letter to Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, Krishnamoorthi wrote that police departments and city officials were promoting the use of Ring’s products, the price of which it slashed (sometimes to nothing) for users of its cop-adjacent app, Neighbours.
“The answer appears to be that Ring gives them access to a much wider system of surveillance than they could build themselves, and Ring allows law enforcement access to a network of surveillance cameras on private property without the expense to taxpayers of having to purchase, install, and monitor those cameras,” wrote Krishnamoorthi. The letter—which does not carry the weight of a subpoena—requests that Amazon turn over copies of all Ring agreements with local and police officials, as well as any neighbourhood watch groups to which Ring gave products or discounts, in addition to copies of any law enforcement requests the company may have fielded for footage so far.
Ring did not yet respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
Krishnamoorthi’s letter cites reporting by reporters at CNET, Vice, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and Gizmodo, which used public records laws to pry loose details about Ring’s partnerships with authorities. “Ring reportedly tightly controls what cities and law enforcement agencies can say about Ring, requiring any public statement to be approved in advance. In one instance, Ring is reported to have edited a police department’s press release to remove the word ‘surveillance,’” the letter says, citing a Gizmodo report from last fall.
In November, five U.S. senators wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressing concern about Ring’s sprawling neighbourhood surveillance and citing the potential for hackers and spies to glean sensitive details about the lives of Americans. “If hackers or foreign actors were to gain access to this data, it would not only threaten the privacy and safety of the impacted Americans; it could also threaten U.S. national security,” they wrote.