Amazon’s Security Collaborative: Cool or Creepy?

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by James A. Bacon

Amazon.com, Inc., is pushing for an intelligence-sharing alliance with law enforcement and emergency-management agencies around its Arlington office complex, similar to arrangement it already has with its Seattle headquarters, reports the Washington Business Journal.

On the positive side, Arlington police and other participants could gain access to Amazon’s tech, best practices, and intelligence-gathering methods. On the other hand, deeper collaboration and information sharing between one of the nation’s biggest corporations and law-enforcement sounds kind of Orwellian.

“Amazon can take a leadership role in the region and establish a new NOVA/Washington DC Regional Security Council (modeled after the Greater Seattle Security Council),” wrote Florence Chung, in charge of Amazon’s public-private partnerships, in an Aug. 1 email. It would “promote collaboration and information sharing between security leadership from both the private sector and public sector.”

The partnership is designed to promote safety on Amazon’s campus, which eventually will employ 25,000, and extend “beyond the perimeter” to Virginia Tech’s proposed innovation campus, a nearby “bar district” and other neighbors in the “Amazon community.”  The heads of Arlington County’s police, fire department, and 9-11 call system have engaged in conversations and meetings with Amazon for several months.

In addition to the formal collaboration, security-related topics include barricades designed as benches at Metropolitan Park, external-facing cameras, pedestrian safety, and “security robots.” Also discussed has been possible “campus edition” of Ring and the Neighbors App for the Virginia Tech campus and Marymount University. Ring, a doorbell-camera company, gives officers the ability to request camera footage from Ring camera owners.

For its part, Arlington police have sought information on Amazon tools for “effectively ingesting large amounts of data (social media, video, etc.) and quickly synthesizing it for action.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Technology is a double-edged sword. I’m all in favor of harnessing tech to promote public safety. People have a right to feel secure in public spaces. On the other hand, I’m really nervous about the pooling of big data for purposes of gathering “intelligence,” especially in combination with increased video surveillance. I know, I know, Amazon and Arlington aren’t communist China. But once this capability is developed, who knows how it will evolve and who will get their hands on it.

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8 responses to “Amazon’s Security Collaborative: Cool or Creepy?

  1. I think that cow has long left the pasture gate.

    I am a fan of the original Law & Order series and the later episodes towards the end of the series – they would talk about “tracking” suspects
    with street and subways video cameras. That was long before private security cameras like Ring being accessible via the internet.

    Now they’re adding facial recognition capabilities so that humans don’t need to scan footage – the software will immediately “alert” when a specified face appears similar to the way that license plate readers work. Next up will be roving drones… that “loiter” or land at a given location to look around.

    So, we’re essentially already there and now they’re just doing a little optimization and housekeeping…

    The big argument is what kind of justification law enforcement has to “track” individuals in real time and going back to archival data.

    How much they can do or not without a warrant is the challenge.

  2. As more and more comes out about the Steele Dossier and the abuse of the FISA Court by Obama, Clinton and Comey all Americans should be concerned about the depth and breadth of government surveillance.

  3. Sharing information from security cameras among businesses and the police can have beneficial results for the stakeholders and the public. So long as a security camera is not placed in a location where someone would expect privacy (a hotel room or public restroom), one doesn’t have an expectation of privacy.

    This is done today. For example, WMATA shares its security camera feeds from the Tysons rail stations with the Fairfax County Police’s security center in the Tysons Center Mall. Police report that, quite often, a fare jumper captured on camera by WMATA often is found shoplifting in the Mall. Much of this is not amateurs but organized crime rings.

    How far beyond this should be permitted should be a topic of discussion.

  4. They way the future will harness the endless data collected in the name of security will be AI. People and their machines cannot process the data rapidly and efficiently. AI will unlock the use of data and who knows where it goes from there.

  5. I know a number of universities are looking at developing processes that can notice substantial change in a security camera screen and, based on the change, put it in front of the person monitoring the security system. That way fewer people have to monitor fewer screens. Very minor changes would be ignored.

    Thus, a stream of people going through a Metro fare gate would not be flagged. But a person jumping the turnstile is sufficiently different that the camera’s output would be immediately before the employee monitoring the security system.

  6. You certainly have reason to be concerned Jim. As Security expert Bruce Schneier outlined in his book, “Data and Goliath – The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World”, there is a Public/Private Surveillance Partnership that has been in force for at least 10+ years. It also goes by the name of “Surveillance Capitalism.” I certainly am familiar with it because my former company was one of the enablers (but not a big player compared to Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple).

    As the WAPO just noted, the federal government has been lax in addressing this but several states – California and New York, are beginning to take action, following the lead of Europe.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/californias-privacy-law-was-supposed-to-spur-congress-to-act-it-flubbed-instead/2020/01/07/26088850-30c8-11ea-a053-dc6d944ba776_story.html

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/surveillance-capitalism-has-gone-rogue-we-must-curb-its-excesses/2019/01/24/be463f48-1ffa-11e9-9145-3f74070bbdb9_story.html#comments-wrapper

    https://www.wired.com/story/new-york-privacy-act-bolder/

    https://www.schneier.com/

  7. This is indeed creepy. I started watching the TV show “Person of Interest” a couple of years ago on Netflix. At the time, I thought the concept of constant surveillance and collection of information on a large population was pretty far into the future. Recent news stories, particularly out of China, demonstrate that is not that far-fetched.

  8. All this is frightening of course.

    But here, perhaps, is the great overarching problem and challenge.

    As threats grow daily at an alarming pace, so do our defenses. Hence, those wizards, human or otherwise, who succeed in gaining control of the entire circle of offense and defense, will own, control and run from birth to death, all of the rest of us lock, stock and barrel.

    So –

    For a real fright, imagine your life if Blackface Northam and his evil twin Herring win the helm of this monster.

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