Your ‘smart home’ is watching, can share data with police

Tech

(NewsNation) — In a first, Amazon has admitted to providing Ring doorbell footage to law enforcement 11 times this year without the user’s permission.

The disclosure piles on the concerns of those already suspicious of big tech and first came to light in a letter from the company that was made public by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.

Markey had sent a separate letter to Amazon last month questioning Ring’s surveillance practices and engagement with law enforcement.

“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,” Markey wrote.

Ring has said it will not share customer information with police without consent, a warrant or due to “an exigent or emergency” circumstance.

The 11 videos shared this year fell under the emergency provision, Amazon’s letter said, the first time the company publicly shared such information. 

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.

Ring statement to NewsNation

Chadwick Moore, a columnist and contributing editor for The Spectator, discussed privacy and civil liberties concerns surrounding the revelation Thursday on NewsNation’s “On Balance with Leland Vittert.”

“You think local law enforcement are the only people who have unfettered access to your information?” Moore said. “Not the CIA, the FBI?”

“It’s hard to imagine what the situation was that you would need access to someone’s doorbell camera — law enforcement would — that would stop imminent violence and how long it would take to get that permission and then for that violence to be stopped,” Moore added. “I don’t understand. It makes no sense.”

Amazon acknowledged it has agreements with 2,161 law enforcement agencies and 455 fire departments, giving them access to use “Neighbors” — an app where users post Ring camera footage and leave comments.

Authorities can use the app to send alerts and request videos. Three years ago, the company had only granted access to 400 departments.

“So we’ve had instances across the United States where cameras have been incredibly useful,” said Dr. Alex del Carmen, a criminology professor who has trained thousands of police officers.

But Del Carmen says there is no question that there are more people than just law enforcement watching our home cameras.

According to Del Carmen, “anyone with the right skill sets and the right technology can access these systems inside a person’s home and be able to monitor what that person is doing, what that person is doing inside their home. And spy.”

In a statement, Markey said “as my ongoing investigation into Amazon illustrates, it has become increasingly difficult … to move, assemble, and converse in public without being tracked and recorded.”

Ring cameras are just the beginning as countless other devices in our homes have the potential to watch and record our every move.

Any home smart device that can be triggered by movement or sound — Google Assistant, Siri, Alexa, Facebook’s Portal — are all watching and listening. It’s how we get targeted advertisements.

Most of these companies have terms and conditions that allow you to turn off listening. Ring audio defaults to on. But if you turn it off, you’ve lost your ability to hear activity on your front porch.

It’s one of the reasons people get Ring cameras in the first place and now have to weigh their privacy with their safety.

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