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 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.
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.