Updated Amazon’s home security wing Ring turned over footage to US law enforcement without permission from the devices’ owners and seemingly without a warrant 11 times so far in 2022.
Though the internet giant has a policy that police generally cannot view recordings without owners’ consent, that safeguard can be overridden with court orders and emergency requests – and it was through 11 emergency requests that Amazon gave the cops people’s video data, without permission and no indication of a warrant. What constitutes an emergency request is left up to Ring itself, too.
“In each instance, Ring made a good-faith determination that there was an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to a person requiring disclosure of information without delay,” Amazon’s vice president of public policy Brian Huseman told Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) in a written response [PDF] to a list of surveillance-practice related questions submitted in June.
Amazon provides a platform called the Neighbors Public Safety Service (NPSS), which allows participating police departments to request footage from Ring users. These requests appear as posts in people’s Neighbor app feeds. NPSS can be used to access videos shared in response to those posts, or content voluntarily made available by people. Over 2,100 policing agencies have now joined, amounting to 500 percent more than in 2019.
If the cops come armed with a court order or emergency request, they can bypass NPSS and get the footage they want.
Markey’s concerns surround the use of such devices as privacy invasions that increase law enforcement reliance on consumer surveillance systems. For Ring, that amounts to 10 million device users, meaning potentially millions of neighbors, passersby and visitors to a door are subjected to surveillance without their knowledge.
“As my ongoing investigation into Amazon illustrates, it has become increasingly difficult for the public to move, assemble, and converse in public without being tracked and recorded,” said Senator Markey, who warned [PDF] there was a potential for Ring devices to facilitate blackmail, stalking, and other damaging practices.
“Recent research indicates that in addition to capturing troves of video recordings, Ring products also surveil the public by capturing vast amounts of audio recordings,” said Markey in a letter [PDF] to Amazon CEO Andrew Jassy, who in turn noted that Ring did not currently offer voice recognition.
Ring doorbells are motion activated and do record audio up to 20 feet (about 6 meters) away, a distance which could potentially encroach into a neighbor’s property or the street. Other doorbells can detect audio even further.
Markey’s concerns include where the technology is eventually going. He offered the following tweet after publishing Amazon’s letter online:
Ring refused to commit to not incorporating voice recognition technology in its products. We must hold corporations accountable and pass my Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act to stop law enforcement from accessing sensitive biometric information.
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) July 13, 2022
The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act was introduced in House in June 2021.
According to Markey, who helped introduce the bill, it “responds to reports that hundreds of local, state, and federal entities, including law enforcement agencies, have used unregulated facial recognition technologies and research showing that that roughly half of US adults are already in facial recognition databases.”
If passed, it would prohibit government biometric surveillance without explicit statutory authorization. ®
Updated to add
A spokesperson for Amazon has been in touch to stress:
We’re also happy to take the opportunity to make clear that the 11 requests were fulfilled by Amazon in an emergency situation with no indication of a court order as well as no permission from the Ring owners.