Amazon’s Ring and Google Nest Give Footage to Police Without Warrants

Amazon's Ring and Google Nest devices are popular home security options, but users may want to look elsewhere if privacy is a concern....
Amazon’s Ring and Google Nest Give Footage to Police Without Warrants
Written by Matt Milano
  • Amazon’s Ring and Google Nest devices are popular home security options, but users may want to look elsewhere if privacy is a concern.

    Ring and Nest devices are used in homes and businesses alike, but a new report says Amazon and Google are giving police access to footage from the devices without a warrant and without the owner’s permission.

    The revelation occurred as a result of Senator Edward Markey’s inquiries regarding Amazon’s practices. The Senator has become increasingly concerned over the role private companies play in mass surveillance.

    “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,” said Senator Markey. “We cannot accept this as inevitable in our country.”

    In response to Senator Markey’s inquiry, Amazon acknowledged that it does provide law enforcement with access to user footage without permission or a warrant.

    “So far this year, Ring has provided videos to law enforcement in response to an emergency request only 11 times,” the company wrote in response. “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.”

    Read more: Ring Is a Case Study in Bad Privacy Policy

    Amazon is not alone in this practice. Google’s Terms of Service make it clear the company has similar policies.

    “If we reasonably believe that we can prevent someone from dying or from suffering serious physical harm, we may provide information to a government agency — for example, in the case of bomb threats, school shootings, kidnappings, suicide prevention, and missing persons cases. We still consider these requests in light of applicable laws and our policies.”

    Not everyone is convinced by Amazon’s response and it’s unlikely Google’s will score many points either.

    “The ’emergency’ exception to this process allows police to request video directly from Amazon, and without a warrant,” writes Jason Kelley and Matthew Guariglia for the EFF, specifically about Amazon. “But there are insufficient safeguards to protect civil liberties in this process. For example, there is no process for a judge or the device owner to determine whether there actually was an emergency. This could easily lead to police abuse: there will always be temptation for police to use it for increasingly less urgent situations.”

    Additional Privacy Issues

    Sharing information with the police is not the only concern. Senator Markey, as well as the EFF, also raise concerns about the distance at which Ring devices can record audio.

    “Earlier this year, Consumer Reports revealed that Ring’s audio capabilities are more powerful than anyone anticipated, collecting conversation-level audio from up to 25-feet away,” Kelley and Guariglia add. “This has disturbing implications for people who walk, bike, or even drive by dozens of these devices every day, not knowing that their conversations may have been captured and recorded. The company also refused to commit to eliminating the default setting of automatically recording audio.”

    Ring has a longstanding history of privacy issues, and Google is no stranger to privacy controversies. The fact that both companies are sharing data without authorization, not to mention one of them broadly recording mass amounts of indiscriminate audio, should be a major concern for everyone involved.

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