Abolition Working Group

Neighbors Against Spying Campaign

What are we fighting for? 

We’re working to pressure the Houston Police Department to cancel its surveillance partnership with Amazon Ring, which allows police to access residents’ Ring cameras without probable cause or any warrant. The company has quietly secured over 1,600 partnerships with law enforcement agencies across the country, including the Houston Police Department, allowing them to tap into the personal Ring Doorbell Cameras of everyday citizens, effectively creating an unchecked, unregulated spy network. 

We’re not only working to end the Houston Police Department’s engagement with Amazon Ring. HPD also uses other harmful technologies like StingRay cell site simulators and feeds from neighborhood license plate readers to stream into its Real Time Crime Center. HPD keeps its operations secret. That’s why this effort is part of the Abolition Working Group’s mission to defund, disarm, and dismantle HPD overall. 

Why stop surveillance?

  • People can approve police access to bulk footage or live streams of their Ring cameras without ever seeing a warrant. Neighbors Ring cameras put other neighbors at risk. One person accepting HPD’s request to view their camera footage could jeopardize the safety or privacy rights of their neighbors. HPD’s Neighbors Partnership turns neighbors against one another and enables racist policing practices. Police in some cities like Jackson, Mississippi are already beginning to livestream footage from Ring cameras for invasive and oppressive policing. [Source]
  • Harris County decided against the Neighbors Partnership because they get enough video by request. Without the Neighbors Partnership, police can still request video footage directly from closed loop security systems. The County declined participation in the Partnership citing concerns that the partnership would be a violation of privacy. [Source]
  • Cameras can be used with technologies like facial recognition, which can misidentify Black and Asian people. The National Institutes of Science and Technology have found that face recognition technology is flawed and biased, misidentifying Black and Asian people up to 100 times more than White people. At a time when countless calls are being made to address the racial and economic biases in the criminal justice and legal systems, quietly taking advantage of the safety concerns of everyday citizens to create a burgeoning spy network is a step in the wrong direction. [Source]
  • Ring cameras haven’t proven effective at reducing crime. “In West Valley City, Utah, officials performed a test in two neighborhoods of similar size and levels of crime. Both neighborhoods saw a drop in crime, according to the MIT Technology Review story, but the results were surprising: the neighborhood without the devices saw a more significant drop.” [Source]
  • HPD is building toward a surveillance state. HPD uses StingRay cell-site simulators to invade privacy and collects camera footage from neighborhood license plate readers, all of which may support the Real Time Crime Center. The Real Time Crime Center, which continuously monitors all priority one and two calls-for-service throughout the city to maintain situational awareness and keep the Chief of Police and executive staff informed about emerging incidents. The City has hidden public records about the footage being used at the Real Time Crime Center. “This is a level of surveillance that, frankly, has usually been associated with totalitarian regimes and not a free society,” said Kevin Welch, president of the Austin branch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. [Source, Source, Source]

Join the fight for abolition

DSA’s Abolition Working Group meets on the third Thursday of every month. We are a member of the Houston Abolitionist Collective and actively support overall efforts to abolish policing, jails, prisons, and detention centers. Email abolition@houstondsa.org to get involved or attend our monthly meetings.