Amazon handed Ring video doorbell footage to police without owners’ permission at least 11 times so far this year — a figure that highlights the unfettered access the company is giving police to doorsteps across the country.
The revelation came in a letter Amazon sent to Sen.Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on July 1 after the lawmaker questioned the video doorbell’s surveillance practices in June. Markey released the letter to the public on Wednesday.
Ring, which Amazon bought in 2018, has repeatedly said that police can’t view recordings unless clips are posted publicly or shared directly with police, though that doesn’t apply to police subpoenas and emergency requests. While the company’s policy has said this information can be shared without a user’s consent, this letter is the first time the company has confirmed that it has handed over this information.
It’s a data point that is likely to only heighten Congressional scrutiny of the tech giant, which lawmakers have already upbraided over its privacy practices, after its facial recognition service Rekognition falsely associated 28 members of Congress with criminal mugshots in 2018 and how its Echo Dot Kids Edition protected children’s privacy. .
The company is also facing antitrust concerns over its dominance across online retail, and its treatment of the third-party sellers that use its platform.
Ring doorbells, in particular, raise privacy concerns because of their popularity, Amazon’s agreements with police, and Amazon’s growing technological capabilities. In 2020, Ring responded to a letter from five senators and revealed that four employees improperly accessed Ring video data.
Amazon currently has agreements to let 2,161 police departments across the country use an app called Neighbors where users post Ring camera footage and leave comments. Police can use the app to send alerts and request videos.
Amazon said in the letter it shares footage with police without a warrant under emergency circumstances involving imminent danger of death or serious physical harm. The company said it decides whether the requests meet its standards of an emergency.
Ring spokesperson Brendan Daley also said that the company also doesn’t require consent when it shares footage to police with warrants, though it does notify the owners.
Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, wrote in the letter to Markey that each of the 11 times it shared video without the consent of the device’s owner, it was because “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.”
Amazon didn’t provide any details about when or where these 11 incidents took place.
Amazon’s agreements with law enforcement allow officers to request Ring doorbell footage for entire neighborhoods. When a request is sent in a specified geographical area, Ring owners get a notification asking them to upload recordings of a specified time period for police to see. The doorbells can be activated through motion detection and can capture audio from up to 30 feet away, according to a test from Consumer Reports, making them useful to police.
In 2021, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that police in Los Angeles requested Ring footage recording Black Lives Matter protests.
“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,” Markey said in a statement.
While Congress is mulling over a federal data privacy law, the proposed bill wouldn’t cover Ring sharing data with police, as it allows for exceptions in cases where a company needs to comply with law enforcement agencies.
Sen. Markey’s office criticized Amazon for not eliminating automatic audio recording by default and argued that Ring should rule out using voice recognition or facial recognition for its products.
The company told the lawmaker, according to the letter, that Ring’s customers “expect and appreciate audio functionality.”