Amazon Shared Footage With Law Enforcement 11 Times in 2022
WASHINGTON — Amazon sent footage from Ring cameras to law enforcement officials 11 times so far in 2022 without notifying the owners, according to a letter the company sent to Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
“As stated in Ring’s law enforcement guidelines, Ring reserves the right to respond immediately to urgent law enforcement requests for information in cases involving imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to any person,” the company wrote in its letter.
The letter from Amazon came as a response to a series of questions Markey asked in June about privacy issues. The cameras, after all, transmit real-time video and sound. His questions particularly seek to address Amazon’s partnership with law enforcement through its Neighbors Public Safety Service program that works with 2,161 law enforcement agencies and 455 fire departments, according to the company.
“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,” Markey said in a statement. “We cannot accept this as inevitable in our country. Increasing law enforcement reliance on private surveillance creates a crisis of accountability, and I am particularly concerned that biometric surveillance could become central to the growing web of surveillance systems that Amazon and other powerful tech companies are responsible for.”
Markey began questioning the array of Ring’s surveillance in 2019 when the company began partnering with local law enforcement as part of its Neighbors Public Safety Service.
That program allows departments to request videos from people in the area through “Request for Assistance” onto the Neighbors application “to promote transparency in how public safety agencies ask their communities for information or video as part of an active investigation. We intentionally designed these Requests for Assistance to keep control in the hands of our customers, not the requesting agencies,” the company wrote.
In addition to that program law enforcement can request videos specifically from Ring, which is a particularly popular security camera that’s routinely a bestseller on Amazon.
Markey particularly questions the biometric data — visual and voice — the cameras can capture that could be handed over to law enforcement.
He specifically asked about the distance at which audio could be captured. Amazon sidestepped that question.
“Audio capture depends on many conditions, including device placement and environmental conditions. While our customers expect audio capabilities, they also have the ability to disable a device’s audio features with an easy toggle found in the privacy settings of the Ring app,” the company wrote.
Markey’s questions come at a time when there’s been increasing scrutiny across the country about all types of data privacy.
He’s introduced legislation with fellow Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., that would bar federal agencies from accessing this kind of data from private companies. The legislation would also seek to stop local and state law enforcement agencies from using this data by conditioning federal funding on it.
Amazon said it is working on addressing privacy issues, specifically through its two-year audit conducted by the Policing Project at New York University School of Law.
Amazon has promised to publicly release that audit, on the basis of which it stopped working with private security companies that are not “peace officers under state law and subject to constitutional restrictions,” the company wrote in its letter.
And the company is working with civil liberty groups to protect people’s privacy, it said.
“Ring is currently engaged in private discussions with criminal justice and academic groups to explore ways to foster a safe and interactive space for all members of the community. Due to ongoing discussions, including our future product roadmap, Ring is keeping these conversations confidential in order to maintain a productive dialogue,” the company wrote in its letter.