Amazon’s Ring doorbell camera ‘is effectively building the largest corporate-owned, civilian-installed surveillance network that the US has ever seen,’ it has been claimed.
The stark warning came from Lauren Bridges, a PhD candidate at University of Pennsylvania, who told The Guardian that one in ten police departments around the country have access to video from the civilian cameras after the company partnered with more than 1,800 local law enforcement agencies.
Bridges raises serious concerns that cops are able to request Ring videos from members of the public without a warrant, which she claims is deliberately circumnavigating the Fourth Amendment – the right not to be searched or have items seized without a legal warrant.
A Ring doorbell camera is pictured as it has been claimed that people who purchase Amazon’s Ring home security cameras have no way to revoke access to law enforcement once permission has been given
Last year alone, law enforcement agencies filed 22,337 individual requests for Ring, according to data compiled by Bridges.
A report in the California Law Review claimed that Amazon even assists and coached law enforcement on how to circumvent legal requirements—such as the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.
The claims are supported by ‘scripts’, obtained by Vice in 2019 from the Topeka, KS police department, which tell police how to encourage users to share camera footage with police and encourage friends to download the Neighbors app.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, nonprofit organization for ‘defending civil liberties in the digital world,’ has even formed petitions calling on Ring to end its partnerships with law enforcement agencies.
Ring cameras have been used by owners to tackle porch pirates and other crimes. File picture
‘Some companies profit directly from exploiting irrational fears of crime that all too often feed the flames of police brutality,’ the foundation wrote.
‘So we’re calling on Amazon Ring, one of the worst offenders, to immediately end the partnerships it holds with over 1300 law enforcement agencies.’
Among law enforcement agencies to make requests, the Milwaukee Police Department appears to have filed the most petitions for video from Ring cameras – with a total of 782 requests made in 2020, data compiled by Bridges shows.
The Tampa Police Department was next with 606 requests, followed by Denver Police Department with 433 requests, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office with 347 requests and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department with 317 requests.
Also of note in Tampa, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office additionally filed 314 requests for Ring videos, the data shows.
An Image from Ring’s support documents shows what police agencies see when making requests
Jumpshot – a data analytics firm – estimated that Ring sold nearly 400,000 of its devices in December 2019 alone, Vox’s RECODE reported, giving the company unprecedented surveillance abilities.
Amazon insists that Ring owners are in full control of their footage and whether they decide to share it or not.
They also refute claims from Bridges that once permission has been granted to police to access the camera, that they have access in perpetuity. They claim that cops will receive only the videos that have been shared for the specific time window – a max of 12 hours – requested along with contact information for the owner of the Ring device.
‘We built Neighbors for our customers, not law enforcement, and users must opt-in to share videos on a per request basis. Law enforcement do not have access to customer devices or livestreams, and customers are in total control of the information they share,’ an Amazon spokesperson told DailyMail.com.
‘We have strict policies in place to limit the scope of a Video Request, and each request is limited to a 12-hour timeframe and only go out to users within a .5 mile radius.’
She added: ‘We designed the Video Request tool to facilitate the conversation and experience of public safety agencies turning to residents for information, including canvassing neighborhoods, while putting our users’ privacy first and providing them options in how they’d like to respond. We are adding accountability, auditability, and transparency to a process that has existed for quite a while.’
According to Ring’s support documents, sharing your video recordings in response to a video request is completely voluntary, and you can select which videos you want to share, if any.’
Ring’s Terms of Service have provisions that allow Ring to ‘access, use, preserve and/or disclose your content to law enforcement authorities, government officials, and/or third parties, if legally required to do so or if we have a good faith belief that such access, use, preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary.’
The company noted that deleted content ‘may be stored by Ring in order to comply with certain legal obligations and are not retrievable without a valid court order.’