Police may obtain Amazon Ring video without permission, raising privacy concerns

Whatever you think (or have been told), your Amazon Ring camera may be transmitting video data to the police without your knowledge or consent.

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey disclosed on Wednesday — during an Amazon Prime Day event — that Amazon admitted to sending footage to the police without a court order or user permission 11 times this year alone. While the number is relatively low, this is the first time the company has said it releases data in this way. according to Politico. It’s also a reminder that if your data is in the public domain and under the control of someone else – like Amazon – you have little to no say in whether law enforcement gets it.

Markey was concerned about Ring’s partnerships with law enforcement and privacy issues. for years. “As my ongoing investigation into Amazon shows, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to move around, gather and communicate in public without being tracked and recorded,” he said in a statement.

His concerns are not unfounded: Amazon’s partnership with law enforcement, which gives them access to its portal to request user data, has grown significantly since its inception. There was 405 police departments in the program in August 2019. Now there is 2161.

But police access pales in comparison to Amazon access. The company also has extensive datasets about what we buy and where we live. growing advertising business what uses your data to target ads to you on Amazon and beyond. The company also recently launched Amazon Sidewalk, a controversial service that connects certain Echo and Ring devices to each other unless the user opts out. All this adds up to a massive and powerful conglomerate that knows more about many of us than any other company, including those who are on our doorstep or pass by our homes.

The Ring camera footage was sent in response to emergency requests, which should only be made when it is certain that serious injury or death will result if the footage is not released immediately. The police are asking for data, but Amazon has to decide whether to release the footage and also whether the request is legal. Bloomberg newly disclosed that people posing as law enforcement officers were able to trick companies, including Meta, Apple and Google, into giving them data in this way.

“There will always be reasons why the authorities might request direct access to cameras in emergencies, but people are entitled to be skeptical when the police and the Ring decide behind closed doors what reasons meet the ‘emergency’ threshold and allow the police to gain unauthorized access to them. personal devices,” Matthew Guarilla, a political analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Recode. Guarilla recommended that users enable Ring end-to-end encryption function if they are worried about the police having easy access to their data.

The ring speaks in its law enforcement guidelines, which are hidden in his accompanying documents so that in case of emergencies, he can send the footage to law enforcement. Ring also sends user data and footage to law enforcement in response to court orders, just like any company that has data for the police. Amazon newly disclosed that it received over 3,100 legal data requests in 2021, up 65 percent from a year earlier. The reports did not say how many of those demands the company responded to. Although Ring says it tells users if law enforcement requests their information, this may be prohibited by law. Users were notified of only 648 requests.

Amazon also said that while customers have the option to turn off audio recording while recording video, it won’t do it by default because customers may never look into their settings to see if they need to turn it on. Which, in turn, means that many customers don’t look into their settings to see if the sound can be turned off. The company also told Markey that Ring “does not currently offer voice recognition.” It’s not an obligation to never offer it in the future, which is what Markey asked for.

“The growing law enforcement reliance on private surveillance is creating an accountability crisis, and I am particularly concerned that biometric surveillance could become the centerpiece of a growing network of surveillance systems that Amazon and other powerful technology companies are responsible for,” Markey said.

Ring spokesman Brendan Daly told Recode that Ring does not offer “unrestricted access” to customer data to anyone, including law enforcement.

“The law allows companies like Ring to release information to government agencies if the company believes that an emergency involving the risk of death or serious bodily harm to any person, such as kidnapping or attempted murder, requires immediate disclosure,” the spokesman added. . “The Ring applies this legal standard in good faith.”

For years, Amazon has been talking about its partnerships with police departments across the country about its smart doorbells and Ring security systems. While privacy advocates worried about Amazon building its own national surveillance network, Amazon argued that Ring is a way for customers to feel more secure in their own homes. And while Amazon offered police departments a portal through which they could access footage from users’ Ring devices when they deemed it necessary, the company assured users that police could only obtain footage from users’ knowledge and permission. This was never entirely true as the company’s letter to Marky became more obvious than ever.

Legislators and regulators have tried to rein in Amazon, but there appear to be significant limits on what they can actually do or how effective these measures will be. If the government and agencies will or will not be able to protect consumer privacy, Amazon decides how and when to do so, and its business interests lie in the data it collects and uses. And that leaves it up to the consumer to decide if giving their data to Amazon is worth the convenience of the products and services they sell in exchange.

Update, July 13 at 6:30 pm ET: This story has been updated to include the Amazon statement.

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