Advocacy groups press Congress to probe Amazon's 'surveillance empire'

Advocacy groups press Congress to probe Amazon's 'surveillance empire'

A coalition of more than a dozen civil rights groups called for a congressional investigation Monday into Amazon's "surveillance empire" amid escalating scrutiny of the tech giant's home security subsidiary, Ring.

Advocacy groups such as Demand Progress, Color of Change and the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on Congress to invite Amazon executives to testify publicly about "the threats their nationwide surveillance network pose."

Several Democratic senators have raised concerns about Ring's doorbell camera, which has been tapped by more than 400 local police departments to create "neighborhood watch" systems, allegedly with little regard for consumer consent or privacy. Ring's partnerships with police forces allow authorities to obtain footage from millions of cameras across the country. Amazon bought Ring last year.

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"During this holiday season, people are going to buy Amazon’s product unaware of the surveillance features and the threats they pose to their personal data and civil liberties," Evan Greer, deputy director of digital rights group Fight for the Future, said in a statement. "Meanwhile, Amazon gains access to video footage and sensitive audio recordings from millions more Americans and their families."

"Amazon’s surveillance empire is spreading at an alarming rate," she said. "At this point, lawmakers need to escalate the investigation and hold hearings demanding answers and accountability from Amazon when it comes to their surveillance empire and monopolistic business practices.”

The civil rights groups also raised concerns about Amazon's facial recognition software, Rekognition, and the company's virtual assistant, Alexa.

The call for an investigation comes as the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee probes Amazon's enormous market power. It also comes shortly after Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyHillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill Twitter tells facial-recognition app maker to stop collecting its data Democratic senator presses facial recognition company after reports of law enforcement collaboration MORE (D-Mass.) released findings from his own investigation into Ring.

Markey said responses to his questions from Ring revealed "little to no privacy policies or civil rights protections for video collected by the technology."

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The groups launched a website, InvestigateAmazon.com, and have pledged to further press local, state and federal lawmakers to take action against the online retail giant.

"Amazon devices are in our homes listening to our most intimate conversations and affixed to front doors where they create an in-real-time record of all that happens in our neighborhoods," Gadeir Abbas, the national senior litigation attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement. "This pervasiveness, combined with Amazon's privacy-averse disposition, creates an unprecedented threat to the civil liberties of all Americans."

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.