Amazon’s Ring unit has repeatedly handed over its users’ doorbell camera footage to law enforcement without their consent, according to new findings from an ongoing investigation led by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass.
In June, Markey wrote a letter to Amazon seeking information on how Ring planned to address ongoing issues related to privacy violations and data sharing with police departments.
Ring states that it will not share customer information with law enforcement without consent, a warrant or “an exigent or emergency” circumstance. The home security company told Markey in a July 1 letter that it has provided footage to law enforcement 11 times this year in response to emergency requests for information.
“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 vice president of public policy Brian Huseman wrote.
Ring currently has 2,161 law enforcement agencies and 455 fire departments enrolled on its Neighbors Public Safety Service (NPSS), a platform that allows Ring users to share suspicious videos captured by their devices. The figure represents a more than five-fold increase in law enforcement partnerships with Ring since November 2019, according to Markey’s office.
“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,” he continued. “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 blasted Ring’s response letter for failing to clarify the distance from which its products can capture audio recordings. In its letter, Ring said that its products’ audio capture capability “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,” Huseman noted.
In addition, Markey slammed Ring for not committing to eliminating its doorbells’ default setting of automatically recording audio and making end-to-end encryption the default storage option for consumers.
Huseman argued that changing the default setting to not capture audio could potentially create a negative customer experience by preventing them from hearing audio during an emergency situation. In addition, he emphasized that end-to-end encryption “may not be right” for all Ring customers and that the company is committed to giving its customers control over whether to enable the feature.
“Ring is continually improving our products and services to enhance customer control, and we remain committed to protecting customer privacy and security,” the letter concluded.
The disclosure comes as Markey has called on Congress to pass the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act. The bill would prohibit biometric surveillance by the federal government without “explicit statutory authorization” and withhold certain federal public safety grants from state and local governments that engage in biometric surveillance.
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