Even more alarming news has surfaced about Amazon’s Ring doorbell/camera and the company’s ultra-cozy relationship with police departments.
Since its introduction, Ring has been steadily increasing its market share — both with homeowners and their public servants. At the beginning of August, this partnership included 200 law enforcement agencies. Three months later, that number has increased to 630.
What do police departments get in exchange for agreeing to be Ring lapdogs? Well, they get a portal that allows them to seek footage from Ring owners, hopefully without a warrant. They also get a built-in PR network that promotes law enforcement wins aided by Ring footage, provided the agencies are willing to let Ring write their press releases for them.
They also get instructions on how to bypass warrant requirements to obtain camera footage from private citizens. Some of this is just a nudge — an unstated quid pro quo attached to the free cameras cops hand out to homeowners. Some of this is actual instructions on how to word requests so recipients are less likely to wonder about their Fourth Amendment rights. And some of this is Ring itself, which stores footage uploaded by users for law enforcement perusal.
If it seems like a warrant might slow things down — or law enforcement lacks probable cause to demand footage — Ring is more than happy to help out. Footage remains a subpoena away at Ring HQ. And, more disturbingly, anything turned over to police departments comes with no strings attached.
Statements given to Sen. Edward Markey by Amazon indicate footage turned over to cops is a gift that keeps on giving.
Police officers who download videos captured by homeowners’ Ring doorbell cameras can keep them forever and share them with whomever they’d like without providing evidence of a crime, the Amazon-owned firm told a lawmaker this month.
Brian Huseman, Amazon’s VP of Public Policy, indicates the public is kind of an afterthought when it comes to Ring and its super-lax policies.
Police in those communities can use Ring software to request up to 12 hours of video from anyone within half a square mile of a suspected crime scene, covering a 45-day time span, Huseman wrote. Police are required to include a case number for the crime they are investigating, but not any other details or evidence related to the crime or their request.
Ring itself maintains that it’s still very much into protecting users and their safety. Maybe not so much their privacy, though. The company says it takes the “responsibility” of “protecting homes and communities” very seriously. But when it comes to footage, well… that footage apparently belongs to whoever it ends up with.
Ring… “does not own or otherwise control users’ videos, and we intentionally designed the Neighbors Portal to ensure that users get to decide whether to voluntarily provide their videos to the police.”
It’s obvious Ring does not “control” recordings. Otherwise, it would place a few more restrictions on the zero-guardrail “partnerships” with law enforcement agencies. But pretending Ring owners are OK with cops sharing their recordings with whoever just because they agreed to share the recording with one agency is disingenuous.
Ring’s answers to Markey’s pointed questions are simply inadequate. As the Washington Post article notes, Ring claims it makes users agree to install cameras so they won’t record public areas like roads or sidewalks, but does nothing to police uploaded footage to ensure this rule is followed. It also claims its does not collect “personal information online from children under the age of 13,” but still proudly let everyone know how many trick-or-treaters came to Ring users’ doors on Halloween. And, again, it does not vet users’ footage to ensure they’re not harvesting recordings of children under the age of 13.
The company also hinted it’s still looking at adding facial recognition capabilities to its cameras. Amazon’s response pointed to competitors’ products utilizing this tech and said it would “innovate” based on “customer demand.”
While Ring’s speedy expansion would have caused some concern, most of that would have been limited to its competitors. That it chose to use law enforcement agencies to boost its signal is vastly more concerning. It’s no longer just a home security product. It’s a surveillance tool law enforcement agencies can tap into seemingly at will.
Many users would be more than happy to welcome the services of law enforcement if their doorbell cameras captured footage of criminal act that affected them, but Ring’s network of law enforcement partners makes camera owners almost extraneous. If cops want footage, Ring will give it to them. And then the cops can do whatever they want with it, even if it doesn’t contribute to ongoing investigations.
These answers didn’t make Sen. Markey happy. Hopefully, other legislators will find these responses unsatisfactory and start demanding more — both from law enforcement agencies and Ring itself.
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