Jul 13, 2022 - Technology

Ring doorbell shared footage without consent 11 times this year

Illustration of a hand cursor ringing a doorbell.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Amazon's video doorbell Ring has shared footage with law enforcement multiple times this year without users' consent, the company said in a letter made public Wednesday.

Why it matters: The proliferation of video doorbells has raised complicated questions surrounding privacy and law enforcement access to footage.

Driving the news: In response to an inquiry by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Amazon said it has given law enforcement footage in response to an emergency request, without user consent, 11 times so far this year.

  • Each time, Amazon said Ring determined "there was an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury" that required disclosure of the information without delay.
  • Law enforcement can obtain Ring footage through voluntary requests to the owner or via a warrant, but Amazon notes it generally informs the user before disclosing the information.
  • Ring has 2,161 law enforcement agencies on its Neighbors Public Safety Service, a platform that allows agencies to request information from users.
  • In a press release, Markey's office notes that's a five-fold increase of the 400 police department partnerships Amazon reported in November 2019.

What they're saying: Markey pressed Amazon to commit to not incorporating voice recognition technology into its products, Amazon responded that Ring does not currently offer the service, but did not commit to anything further.

  • "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 said in a statement.

The other side: Ring made more than 100 changes during the two-year period it underwent an audit by New York University's Policing Project.

  • That includes requiring police agencies to identify a specific offense under investigation when seeking video.
  • The audit found that most requests from law enforcement were connected to "relatively serious property crimes and some violent crimes," with 16% related to shootings or homicides.
  • "We will continue to prioritize privacy, security, and user control as we pursue and improve technologies to help achieve our mission of making neighborhoods safer," Amazon's vice president for public policy Brian Huseman wrote to Markey.
  • "The law authorizes companies like Ring to provide information to government entities if the company believes that an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person, such as a kidnapping or an attempted murder, requires disclosure without delay," a Ring spokesperson said in a statement to Axios. "Ring faithfully applies that legal standard."
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