Amazon Finally Admits Giving Ring Doorbell Data to Local Police
Most people install a Ring doorbell to keep their home safe and secure from intruders, but did you know that the police can access your Ring video data without your knowledge or consent?
Amazon has admitted to sharing video footage from Ring doorbell security cameras with police without a court order or owner permission at least 11 times this year. This admission came in a letter Amazon sent to Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) after the lawmaker questioned the video doorbell’s surveillance practices.
While the company’s law enforcement guidelines state that it typically notifies doorbell owners before sharing requested information with police, Ring’s policy allows for police to submit emergency disclosure requests in cases involving imminent danger of death or s to any person–such as a kidnapping or an attempted murder–without the users’ permission.
Amazon claims that in all the 11 times it shared video without the device owner’s consent, it made a good-faith determination that there was an imminent danger of serious physical injury or death to a person requiring disclosure of information without delay.
How it Works
Amazon bought Ring in 2018, and its law enforcement partners portray the vast camera network as a shield for neighborhoods, saying it can help deter and solve crimes, protecting homes from criminals, intruders, and thieves while assisting police investigators in solving crimes quickly.
Ring devices pair to an app named “Neighbors by Ring” that allows users to share, view, and comment on crime information in their neighborhood and upload video clips from Ring doorbells. Its purpose is to alert others of potential neighborhood crimes, such as stealing mail or littering in your front yard.
Ring currently has 2,161 law enforcement agencies and 455 fire departments across the country enrolled on its Neighbors Public Safety Service platform, through which participating agencies can request footage from Ring users. When a request is sent in a specified geographical area, Ring owners get a notification asking them to upload recordings of a specified period for police to see.
However, it’s up to Amazon to decide whether to release the footage and if the request is legitimate. This requires you to trust that the police and some unknown department within Amazon and Ring have everyone’s best interests in mind.
Privacy and Surveillance Concerns
While residential neighborhoods aren’t usually lined with security cameras, the Amazon Ring doorbell’s popularity has created private, national surveillance networks powered by Amazon and promoted by police departments.
Advocacy groups have long had concerns about the degree of Amazon’s control over data generated by the doorbells’ cameras and microphones and Ring’s deepening relationships with law enforcement agencies. According to Senator Markey’s office, there’s been a five-fold increase in police partnerships since November 2019. These groups are worried that the program could threaten civil liberties, turn neighbors into informants, and subject innocent people, such as Ring users who have been flagged as suspicious, to greater surveillance and potential risk.
Markey observed from his investigation into Amazon that it has become increasingly difficult for the public to converse, move, and assemble in public without being tracked and recorded. The senator further noted that increasing law enforcement reliance on private surveillance creates a crisis of accountability, saying that he’s particularly concerned that “biometric surveillance could become central to the growing web of surveillance systems that Amazon and other powerful tech companies are responsible for.”
Though legislators and regulators have tried to rein Amazon in, there seem to be significant limits on what they can do or how effective those measures will be. For example, Congress is considering passing a federal data privacy law. Still, the proposed bill wouldn’t cover Amazon Ring sharing data with police because it allows for exceptions in cases where a company needs to comply with law enforcement agencies.
As more reporting continues to come out about the privacy hazards of Amazon Ring and its police partnerships, more communities will likely step up to demand more community control over police access to Ring video data without consent. In contrast, more progressive states like California may take proactive steps to make it illegal for police departments to acquire the video data without user consent or a warrant.
In the meantime, if you own a Ring camera or doorbell and want to ensure law enforcement can’t receive your videos, here are a few things you can try:
- Don’t subscribe to Ring Protect: Unless you subscribe to Ring Protect, your Ring doorbell doesn’t record or store your videos, making it a relatively secure home surveillance option. Though you and any other shared users can view the device’s live video stream, Ring employees can’t view your live stream without your consent.
- Opt out of police requests: You will receive a request whenever your sheriff’s office or local police department seeks information or evidence in an investigation. But it’s a voluntary request, so you don’t have to submit anything if you don’t want to. You can completely disable law enforcement video requests for your Ring account through the Control Center. Go to Video Requests under Community Control, toggle the switch to the Off position, and then confirm the change. But remember that turning off the alerts doesn’t mean law enforcement can never access your Ring videos. If you share any of your videos with Ring’s Neighbors network, it’s fair game for the police to access, view, download, or acquire your videos with a warrant.
- Enable end-to-end encryption: With end-to-end encryption, recorded video footage can be viewed only on your smartphone or tablet. That means Ring, Amazon, and the police won’t be able to see your footage unless they have your personal mobile device. However, this feature is available on select Ring camera and doorbell models and doesn’t work with Ring’s popular battery-powered devices, including Ring Video Doorbell 3 and 3 Plus models. You can check its availability on your device by tapping Video Encryption>Advanced Settings>End-to-End Encryption.
The amazon revelation that it has repeatedly provided law enforcement with Ring video footage without user consent is a reminder that if your data is out there and under the control of someone else—Amazon in this instance—you have little or no say over whether law enforcement gets it. For more updates or information about our IT services, don’t hesitate to contact Alvarez Technology Group today!