Tristan GreeneEditor, Neural by TNW
Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him
US Senator Edward Markey yesterday revealed the results of a months-long investigation into Amazon’s Ring camera-doorbells and the company’s relationship with law enforcement. The Senator’s press team dubbed the findings “alarming” and called the company’s policies “an open door for privacy and civil liberty violations.”
The press release, which you can read in full here, describes several key findings indicating that Amazon executives took little or no action to prevent or discourage misuse of camera footage by law enforcement, even going so far as to urge officers to “to take steps that will increase rates of video sharing” and approaching customers with targeted language intended to convince them to give footage to law enforcement.
Per the press release, Senator Markey also found:
- Ring has no security requirements for the law enforcement offices that get access to users’ footage
- Ring has no restrictions on law enforcement sharing users’ footage with third parties
- Ring has no policies that prohibit law enforcement from keeping shared video footage forever
- Ring has no evidentiary standard for law enforcement to request Ring footage from users
- Ring refuses to commit to not selling users’ biometric data
- Ring has no oversight/compliance mechanisms in place to ensure that users don’t collect footage from beyond their property
- Ring has no oversight/compliance mechanisms in place to ensure that users don’t collect footage of children
- Ring has no compliance mechanisms in place to prohibit law enforcement from requesting and obtaining footage that does not comply with Ring’s Terms of Service
The release also linked to files containing correspondence between himself and Amazon’s Vice President of Public Policy, Brian Huseman. In one letter, Huseman says Ring’s mission is to “make neighborhoods safer” before going on to describe the dystopian “Neighbors” app and its accompanying police portal:
The Neighbors app provides a safe forum for community members to easily communicate about crime and safety in their neighborhood. The Neighbors app is free and may be used by every community member regardless of whether they own a Ring device. The Neighbors Portal is an extension of the Neighbors app that allows local law enforcement to post information about crime and safety alerts; view and comment on public posts as an identified law enforcement officer; and use the video request tool to ask Ring to request video footage from Ring device owners who are in areas of an active investigation.
With the Neighbors Portal, law enforcement can only view publicly available content in the Neighbors app, unless a user explicitly and voluntarily chooses to share their own recordings with law enforcement.
Worth noting is that Huseman repeatedly states that Amazon doesn’t place any restrictions on law enforcement agencies beyond those the departments place on themselves. Furthermore, Amazon apparently has no system in place to hold law enforcement accountable to any form of TOS or user agreement.
There are no protections in place for people who don’t wish to be filmed by Ring cameras. Senator Markey said:
If you’re an adult walking your dog or a child playing on the sidewalk, you shouldn’t have to worry that Ring’s products are amassing footage of you and that law enforcement may hold that footage indefinitely or share that footage with any third parties. Amazon’s Ring is marketed to help keep families safe, but privacy rights are in real danger as a result of company policies. Amazon is not doing enough to ensure that its products and practices do not run afoul of our civil liberties.
Amazon’s apparently enthusiastic engagement in the construction of a full-scale police surveillance network could jeopardize the Constitutionally-protected rights of every US citizen. While Ring owners themselves have the option to opt-out of participating with law enforcement or the Neighbors app, those captured on film without their knowledge or consent do not.
We’ve come to expect CCTV cameras and surveillance in public spaces and commerce areas, but until recently it’s been safe to assume most of us weren’t being unwittingly surveilled in our own front yards. Those days are over.
And the hits just keep coming, here’s more news about Ring from TNW today: Mozilla’s report shows just how awful Ring’s privacy practices are
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