Amazon Shared Ring Security Camera and Video Doorbell Footage With Police Without a Warrant

The company says it provided videos to police 11 times this year because of serious emergencies

Amazon Ring video doorbell installed outside of a door. Photo: Amazon

Amazon shared footage from Ring security cameras and video doorbells with police without a court order or owner permission 11 times this year because of emergencies that involved "danger of death or serious physical injury," Amazon’s vice president of public policy wrote in a July 1 letter to U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Ma.).

The letter was in response to questions in a letter of concern sent by Sen. Markey last month regarding Amazon’s privacy violations and data sharing with police departments. 

In September 2019, Ring told Consumer Reports that it “will not disclose user videos to law enforcement unless the user expressly consents or if disclosure is required by law, such as to comply with a warrant” and that “Ring objects to over-broad or otherwise inappropriate legal demands as a matter of course.” This statement was given in response to questions about how Ring handles court orders.

The Amazon subsidiary reiterated this stance in a Jan. 30, 2020 email to CR. Yet, Ring offers an emergency request form (PDF) for law enforcement agencies that was last updated on Feb. 1, 2020. By filling out the form, law enforcement agencies can ask Ring to share video footage with them without a court order or user consent.

More on Ring

Ring’s privacy page states it may share video with police if “there is an emergency involving imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to a person and there is insufficient time to obtain a court order.”

A Ring spokesperson said that the 11 incidents referenced in the letter to Sen. Markey were emergencies “involving danger of death such as a kidnapping or an attempted murder.” The letter stated that Ring “made a good-faith determination” that there was “imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to a person requiring disclosure of information without delay.” 

“We know how many times they’ve given up data under these exigent circumstances, but we have no idea how many requests they receive and if they reject any requests,” said Matthew Guariglia, policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Ring, which is an unelected private company with a profit motive, gets to be the people who decide whether or not the police request is in good faith or not . . . Their threshold for exigence and emergency might not be the same as mine.”

Advocacy groups have long had concerns about Amazon and Ring’s relationships with law enforcement agencies and their use of the Neighbors by Ring social network, which Ring owners use to post and share videos from their cameras. Ring currently has 2,161 law enforcement agencies enrolled on its Neighbors Public Safety Service platform, through which participating agencies can request footage from Ring users.

In regard to these emergency requests, Ring declined to comment on whether users were notified that their video was shared, when the emergency request process was implemented, how many emergency requests were made and granted in 2021, and whether there are other methods by which Ring shares footage without a legally binding order or user consent.

Instead, the company provided this statement:

“It’s simply untrue that Ring gives anyone unfettered access to customer data or video, as we have repeatedly made clear to our customers and others. 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. Ring faithfully applies that legal standard.”

“If these were security cameras of a generation ago and they backed up to a VCR in your garage, police could not just call some company far away and ask for that footage. They would have to come and knock on your door. Ring has the option of creating a device like that, that is less accessible to people other than the user, and they choose not to,” Guariglia said.

Some security camera manufacturers, such as Eufy and Wyze, make cameras that can store footage locally on the device itself, but Ring and other companies store camera footage in the cloud and charge a recurring fee to generate more revenue from their users. In fact, the only way you can store Ring camera footage locally is to buy a Ring Alarm Pro security system, which can store camera footage in its memory in exchange for a monthly fee.

CR reached out to a handful of competing camera manufacturers to see if they have similar practices. ADT, Arlo, and SimpliSafe responded, stating that they only share video with law enforcement in response to a legally binding order or with user consent. Arlo added that this is their policy even in cases involving life-threatening emergencies.

If you own a Ring camera or doorbell and want to make sure law enforcement can’t receive your videos, you can try to enable end-to-end encryption, which is available on select Ring camera and doorbell models. For more information on doing so, see our article on Ring end-to-end encryption

Amazon’s response letter to Sen. Markey is just the latest incident Ring has faced as it works to address its critics. Sen. Markey’s initial letter of concern was prompted in part by CR’s investigation into Ring doorbells, which found the doorbells can record audio up to 25 feet away.

Ring did conduct an outside audit of its law enforcement policies and privacy practices with the New York University School of Law Policing Project, but the results did not impress advocacy groups. There have also been concerns around law enforcement providing domestic violence abuse survivors with Ring cameras.

Last year, Ring announced stricter limits on how law enforcement agencies can request footage, but made no mention of the emergency request process at the time. In early 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic, Ring launched its Control Center privacy dashboard, which allows Ring users to opt out of receiving law enforcement video requests. See our guide to the Ring Control Center for more information on how to lock down Ring devices.

Headshot of Electronics freelance writer, Yael Grauer

Yael Grauer

I am an investigative tech reporter covering digital privacy and security. I'm the lead content creator of CR Security Planner, a free, easy-to-use guide to staying safer online. Prior to Consumer Reports, I covered surveillance, online privacy and security, data brokers, dark patterns, clandestine trackers, security vulnerabilities, VPNs, hacking, and digital freedom for Wired, Vice, The Intercept, Slate, Ars Technica, OneZero, Wirecutter, Business Insider, Popular Science, and other publications. Follow me on Twitter (@yaelwrites)

Home Content Creator Daniel Wroclawski

Daniel Wroclawski

I'm obsessed with smart home tech and channel my obsession into new stories for Consumer Reports. When I'm not writing about products, I spend time either outside hiking and skiing or up in the air in small airplanes. For my latest obsessions, follow me on Facebook and Twitter (@danwroc).