Amazon admits police get Ring camera footage without owners' consent or a warrant

In a letter sent to Congress, Amazon has admitted that its doorbell-cam company, Ring, sends footage to law enforcement without a warrant or the consent of the owners, and has done so 11 times so far in 2022. CNN Business:

The July 1 letter responding to questions by Sen. Ed Markey and made public by his office on Wednesday shows that Ring frequently makes its own "good-faith determinations" as to whether to provide surveillance data to law enforcement absent a warrant or the consent of the doorbell owner.

Under its policies, 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 letter read. The company also requires police to fill out a special "emergency request form" if there is an urgent need to bypass the normal law enforcement process, according to the letter.

It has long been apparent that the police (and others) have access to Ring camera footage, but the admission makes clear that the access is systematic and that users have no say in the matter. Amazon also declined to "commit" to not using voice and face recognition technology with Ring cameras, according to CNN Business.

Years ago here, Cory wrote about how Amazon's PR people would deny earlier reports of warrantless police cooperation to him, yet refuse to answer why police ended up with access to information they could not possibly know without access to Ring cameras and metadata.

For example, when I published this story, an Amazon PR person wrote to tell me that the statement that "Amazon provides their local law enforcement with comprehensive dossiers on everyone who activates a Ring doorbell, including 'where they live, the MAC addresses of each of their devices, and how to reach them by email or phone'" was incorrect, but could not explain why a public records request showed that the cops had all that information. At first, they said that the Ring owners must have provided it voluntarily to law enforcement, but when I asked if they really believed that someone had found the MAC address for their surveillance doorbells and painstakingly entered the long hexadecimal number into a website or dictated it over the phone, they said "We defer to law enforcement for questions about their process and operations."

One common thread in the PR spin I get on this story is that any access that law enforcement gets to Ring footage is a result of the cops asking — via Amazon — whether Ring customer will voluntarily provide it. They do not mention that if a Ring customer refuses a law-enforcement request, the cops can just tell Amazon that they need it for their investigation and obtain it that way.

I switched from a Ring-like system (the dismal Arlo) to a Reolink system years ago (this one, albeit an older model) and it's much better. The footage is clearer, especially at night, it's stored on a hard drive in the basement with no cloud shenanigans required, though it backs up automatically wherever you want to send it. It's not a doorbell, though. (If you want to avoid a manufacturer that the CCP gets to meddle with, Geovision is made in Taiwan.)

Correction: 2022, not 2020