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Tag Archives: Big Brother


FTC – Coalition Letter on Data Sharing Practices of Ring

Dear Chairman Simons, 

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC” or “Commission”) should open an investigation into Ring—a subsidiary of Amazon—and its data-sharing practices with law enforcement officials. Ring’s conduct raises a number of concerns, including fears that (1) the emerging technology may result in discriminatory law enforcement activity, (2) sensitive consumer data may be jeopardized as a result of misuse by Amazon and (3) consumers may be subjected to heightened physical security risks. Given these concerns, which are outlined in greater detail below, and Amazon’s history of data mishandling, the FTC should more deeply examine the damaging effects of these practices. 

While innovative, Ring’s home security doorbell and its use of consumer data are cause for significant concern as this conduct has the potential to result in considerable consumer harm. So-called “smart home” technology, still very much in its infancy, and its misuse have the potential to cause lasting damage to consumers if the necessary precautions are not taken. 

Despite the potential benefits of “smart home” technology like the Ring “smart” doorbell, the data collected by Amazon opens consumers to exposure under the promise of additional security. As a result, not only is consumer data made more vulnerable, but their physical safety is put at unprecedented risk.  

 As the Commission is well aware, as more data is collected by Amazon, potential data breaches become more damaging. A data breach of consumers’ home security system by nefarious actors could have direct consequences on consumer physical safety. For example, should home security video footage fall into the wrong hands, consumers’ daily routines—including when they leave home and when they are alone and most vulnerable—would be easily discernible by criminals intending to cause harm. 

 According to reports, Ring has already misled consumers about its data handling practices. The Washington Post reports that Ring has partnered with over 400 police departments in the U.S., “granting them potential access to homeowners’ camera footage.”[1]  Amazon was able to secure hundreds of partnerships by capitalizing on artificially low prices funded through taxpayer resources.[2]  Making matters worse, Ring engages in these partnerships without first informing its users. This deceptive practice raises, at best, tremendous ethical concerns. 

Amazon’s record on data security is already cause for concern. Recently, two prominent senators have asked the Commission to investigate Amazon’s role in the Capital One data breach, which affected nearly 100 million customers.[3]  Given Amazon’s potential involvement in this historic breach and its reckless handling of consumer data captured through Ring, it would be unwise to allow this activity to continue without at least some examination from the Commission. 

In addition to the data security concerns, Ring’s video-sharing arrangement raises questions about the potential for profiling. In an open letter to lawmakers,[4] more than 30 civil rights action groups described the threat to civil liberties posed by Ring’s partnership with law enforcement. In the letter, the organizations explain the dangers of this arrangement:

“With no oversight and accountability, Amazon’s technology creates a seamless and easily automated experience for police to request and access footage without a warrant, and then store it indefinitely. In the absence of clear civil liberties and rights-protective policies to govern the technologies and the use of their data, once collected, stored footage can be used by law enforcement to conduct facial recognition searches, target protesters exercising their First Amendment rights, teenagers for minor drug possession, or shared with other agencies […].” 

These sentiments were echoed by another prominent senator in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.[5] In the letter, the lawmaker outlined the privacy and civil liberty concerns noted above. Amazon has not yet responded to this letter—a clear indication that, unless pressured by government officials, the company will only act in accordance with its own interests, rather than address the genuine threats expressed here. Because of this, it would be wise for the FTC to act before the situation spirals out of control. 

Inaction in light of these facts would subject consumers to risks that are all too dangerous. As the top “cop on the beat,” the FTC has a public responsibility to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive business practices. Given the data security and civil liberty concerns, it would be wise for the FTC to undertake a review of the partnership between Amazon and Ring and law enforcement authorities. 

This issue—that of data security and physical safety—is bipartisan in nature. In fact, it transcends politics entirely.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. 

Sincerely,

[1] Harwell, D. (2019, August 28). Doorbell-camera firm Ring has partnered with 400 police forces, extending surveillance concerns. Retrieved October 24, 2019, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/08/28/doorbell-camera-firm-ring-has-partnered-with-police-forces-extending-surveillance-reach/.

[2] Guariglia, M. (2019, August 30). Five Concerns about Amazon Ring’s Deals with Police. Retrieved October 24, 2019, from https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/08/five-concerns-about-amazon-rings-deals-police.

[3] https://subscriber.politicopro.com/f/?id=0000016d-fde0-d909-abff-fde145f70001

[4] Fight for the Future (2019, October 7). Open letter calling on elected officials to stop Amazon’s doorbell surveillance partnerships with police. Retrieved October 24, 2019, from https://www.fightforthefuture.org/news/2019-10-07-open-letter-calling-on-elected-officials-to-stop/.

[5] https://www.markey.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Ring%20Law%20Enforcement%202019.pdf 


Whistleblowers at Veterans Benefits Administration report instances of retaliation

POW_veterans affairs_VA scandal_by Ellison Barber

Whistleblowers from regional offices of the Veterans Benefits Administration testified before the House Veteran Affairs Committee on Monday night that the agency has been tampering with documents, manipulating records, and retaliating against employees who report problems.

Kristen Ruell, a whistleblower from a VBA regional office in Philadelphia, Pa., told the committee she received an email from an employee in triage, the location where mail is processed, telling her that clerks were setting aside incoming forms when they were not easily identifiable. Continue reading


The Emerging Junta

The IRS’s illegal actions — and its efforts at cover-up — undermine the foundations of our government.

IRS Scandal Lawlessness

by Kevin D. Williamson

I will confess to a little despair over the relatively mild reception that has greeted the evidence, now conclusive and irrefutable, that the Internal Revenue Service, under the direction of senior leaders affiliated with the Democratic party, was used as a political weapon from at least 2010 through the 2012 election. It may be that the American public simply does not care about the issue; it is always difficult, if not impossible, to predict what issues will seize the electorate’s attention, or to understand why after the fact. It may be that the public does not understand the issue, in which case a brief explanation of the known facts may be of some use.

Here is what happened. In the run-up to the 2012 election, senior IRS executives including Lois Lerner, then the head of the IRS branch that oversees the activities of tax-exempt nonprofit groups, began singling out conservative-leaning organizations for extra attention, invasive investigations, and legal harassment. The IRS did not target groups that they believed might be violating the rules governing tax-exempt organizations; rather, as e-mails from the agency document, the IRS targeted these conservative groups categorically, regardless of whether there was any evidence that they were not in compliance with the relevant regulations. Simply having the words “tea party,” “patriot,” or “9/12” (a reference to one of Glenn Beck’s many channels of activism) in the name was enough. Also targeted were groups dedicated to issues such as taxes, spending, debt, and, perhaps most worrisome, those that were simply “critical of the how the country is being run.” Organizations also were targeted based on the identity of their donors. Their applications were delayed, their managements harassed, and the IRS demanded that they answer wildly inappropriate questions, such as the content of their prayers. Continue reading


Nevada Governor Blasts Feds’ ‘First Amendment Area’ in Bundy Dispute

1st First Amendmentby Paul Joseph Watson

Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy has called on Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie to start arresting Bureau of Land Management agents on charges of trespassing and theft as his battle against the federal government intensifies. Continue reading


The IRS Scandal Comes Into Focus

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp lays out damning evidence of Lois Lerner’s targeting of conservative groups.

irs-targets-conservativesby Kimberley Strassel

Nearly a year into the IRS scandal, we still don’t know exactly what happened—though we are finally getting an inkling. That’s thanks to the letter House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp sent this week to the Justice Department recommending a criminal probe of Lois Lerner. Continue reading


Dallas IRS Office Plastered with Pro-Obama Stickers, Screensavers

Agency still under fire for Lois Lerner-tea party targeting scandal.

IRS Silecing Conservativesby Stephen Dinan

Even as the IRS faces growing heat over Lois G. Lerner and the tea party targeting scandal, a government watchdog said Wednesday it’s pursuing cases against three other tax agency employees and offices suspected of illegal political activity in support of President Obama and fellow Democrats. Continue reading


A black box in your car? A source of tax revenue?

Car-Black-BoxThe devices would track every mile you drive —possibly including your location — and the government would use the data to draw up a tax bill.

As America’s road planners struggle to find the cash to mend a crumbling highway system, many are beginning to see a solution in a little black box that fits neatly by the dashboard of your car.

The devices, which track every mile a motorist drives and transmit that information to bureaucrats, are at the center of a controversial attempt in Washington and state planning offices to overhaul the outdated system for funding America’s major roads.

The usually dull arena of highway planning has suddenly spawned intense debate and colorful alliances. Libertarians have joined environmental groups in lobbying to allow government to use the little boxes to keep track of the miles you drive, and possibly where you drive them — then use the information to draw up a tax bill. Continue reading


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