Here’s something I didn’t know when I bought Amazon Ring and Amazon Echo Dots cameras: there’s a webpage where law enforcement can fill out a form, say there’s a life-threatening emergency and access your data without your consent, a court order or any type of warrant. There’s nothing in the terms of service about this, and the company has argued for years that it helps police get consent first, but it happens anyway.
In the past seven months alone, Amazon has provided private Ring videos to law enforcement 11 times, the company told Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) in a letter dated July 1 and provided to the press this week.
Here are Markey’s questions and Amazon’s answers on this particular topic:
(Markey is focusing on Ring, which has its own specific form (pdf) that law enforcement can fill out, but we found that parent company Amazon has the same policy and its own request site. Ring’s best known are cameras that face the outside of your home, Ring and Amazon sell gadgets that can see and hear inside your home.)
Maybe Amazon’s answers seem quite reasonable to you? It’s possible that every one of those 11 times in 2022 (and yet multiple times in 2021 and before) was a legitimate life-threatening emergency, the police knew it, Amazon knew it, and maybe the company did. maybe even saved lives doing it.
But it forces you to believe that the police and an unknown department within Amazon have everyone’s best interests in mind. Trust in the police and their surveillance tools is not high these days for obvious reasons – and Markey suggested The interception that Amazon also lost the benefit of the doubt.
“This revelation is particularly troubling given that the company has previously admitted to having no policies limiting how law enforcement can use Ring users’ images, no data security requirements for law enforcement entities. law enforcement who have images of users and no policy prohibiting law enforcement officers from keeping images of Ring users forever,” he said. The interception.
It seems true that federal law allows Amazon to provide this type of information to a government agency – “if the supplier, in good faith, believes that an emergency involving danger of death or serious bodily injury to any person requires prompt disclosure.” That’s a direct quote from 18 US § 2702(b)(8). clear if anything would stop bad actors at Amazon or law enforcement from abusing a system that has no obvious oversight.
At this time, it’s unclear whether owners will ever know that footage from their Ring camera, for example, has been viewed by police and potentially recorded for months or years afterwards. Do we tell them afterwards? It’s unclear who at Amazon would make these decisions in good faith, or whether Amazon employees are viewing the footage or simply trusting law enforcement to do so.
We asked those questions, but Amazon spokesperson Mai Nguyen said he couldn’t answer them, writing instead, “It’s just plain wrong for Ring to give anyone unlimited access to data. or customer video” – which we didn’t suggest – while repeating the company’s belief. that he is authorized to provide this information if he believes that there is a life-threatening emergency or a threat of serious injury.
Amazon is getting closer to law enforcement across the United States with its Ring doorbell cameras, at one point using law enforcement as a marketing tool to help sell more. It is associated with 2,161 law enforcement agencies to date, in addition to fire departments. It’s not at all clear that getting Ring footage actually helped law enforcement in business: In 2020, a BNC News investigation suggested they largely did not.
If you have a wired Ring camera, you can enable the company’s end-to-end encryption for your video streams, but Amazon doesn’t offer this feature on its popular battery-powered models. Amazon also refuses to make end-to-end encryption the default for its Ring cameras. “We’re committed to giving customers options so they can choose the Ring experience that’s right for them,” writes Brian Huseman, vice president of public policy at Amazon, as if making encryption opt-out instead opt-in would kind of give people less options.
On the Echo/Alexa side, you also have to sign up to delete your recordings if you’re careful. Apple, meanwhile, pledged in 2019 to no longer retain Siri recordings by default.