Ring Is Teaching Cops How To Obtain Doorbell Camera Footage Without A Warrant

from the twist:-Amazon-will-just-give-it-to-them-if-no-one-cooperates dept

To be part of your local law enforcement's surveillance network, all you need is a little tech from Amazon. Amazon's Ring doorbell/camera is being handed out to cops, who can then give them to citizens with the implication the recipients of this corporate/government largesse will deliver recordings upon request.

Every Ring installed is another contributor to this ad hoc network of cameras -- something both cops and Amazon have access to. Amazon is looking to corner two markets at one time, roping in both the public and private sectors with an eye on dominating both. The added bonus -- at least as far as Amazon is concerned -- is its Neighbors app. Neighbors allows people to report suspicious things to other neighbors, as well as law enforcement. Unsurprisingly, early adopters have tended to report the existence of brown people in their neighborhoods more often than anything else.

The whole process is guided by Amazon's heavy hand. Government agencies participating in the Ring handouts are given talking points, pre-written press releases, and contractual obligations to promote the product they're giving away. Recently-obtained documents show Amazon has even crafted scripts for police officers and press relations staff to use when questioned by citizens.

But there's even more to this partnership than everything you see above. Lucas Ropek of GovTech reports cops have an Amazon-enabled workaround if Ring recipients aren't willing to turn over footage without a warrant.

If the community member doesn’t want to supply a Ring video that seems vital to a local law enforcement investigation, police can contact Amazon, which will then essentially “subpoena” the video.

“If we ask within 60 days of the recording and as long as it’s been uploaded to the cloud, then Ring can take it out of the cloud and send it to us legally so that we can use it as part of our investigation,” [Fresno County Sheriff's Office public information officer Tony Botti] said.

So much for asserting your rights. The only way to shut law enforcement out completely and demand they actually get a warrant supported by probable cause is to store all recordings locally. (It appears only a subpoena is needed to obtain footage from Amazon.) Very few people will be taking those steps. And, as Tony Botti points out, most people "play ball" and allow cops to collect footage without a warrant.

If the implicit obligation of "repaying" a government agency for giving you a free doorbell camera isn't persuasive enough, Amazon is crafting scripts for law enforcement to use to talk people out of their Constitutional rights. Thanks to even more public document requests, the pitches are now public. Caroline Haskins has more details at Motherboard.

Emails obtained from police department in Maywood, NJ—and emails from the police department of Bloomfield, NJ, which were also posted by Wired—show that Ring coaches police on how to obtain footage. The company provides cops with templates for requesting footage, which they do not need a court warrant to do. Ring suggests cops post often on Neighbors, Ring’s free “neighborhood watch” app, where Ring camera owners have the option of sharing their camera footage.

"I have noticed you have been posting alerts and receiving feedback from the community,” a Ring representative told Bloomfield police. “You are doing a great job interacting with them and that will be critical in increasing the opt-in rate.”

“The more users you have, the more useful the information you can collect,” the representative added.

“Seems like you wasted no time sending out your video Request out to Ring Users which is awesome!!” a Ring “Partner Success Associate” told Maywood police.

This guidance is supposed to create a perverse circle of life that ditches Constitutional niceties in favor of keeping cops awash in doorbell footage and Amazon well ahead of the pack in the doorbell camera market.

Ring's PR partners encourage law enforcement agencies to increase their social media presence. (There are scripts for that as well.) While engaging with local residents, agencies should also be pushing the Neighbors app. This gives cops more credits to trade in for more cameras to give to more people. Everyone receiving a camera is nudged by the app to post footage publicly. Cops will be online more often to encourage further sharing of recordings.

Once this feedback loop is engaged, people will be nudged towards thinking there are no legal barriers between police officers and their camera footage. When the cops ask for footage they haven't seen yet, homeowners will likely feel there's no difference between posting footage to Neighbors or handing it over to law enforcement.

While many people do install security cameras at their homes, they seldom do so with the intent of becoming an unofficial extension of a government agency's surveillance network. The pitches and scripted pushes accompanying the Ring rollout suggest Amazon believes this is nothing more than the evolution of snitch tech. It has repeatedly shown it prefers to ingratiate itself to government agencies at the expense of the millions of customers who helped it become the retail behemoth it is. And those are the people Amazon is leaving behind in its quest to dominate a market very few consumers wanted to see it entering.

Filed Under: iot, police, privacy, ring
Companies: amazon


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2019 @ 1:13pm

    To be fair, you left out the bit where Amazon disagreed with the Fresno County Sheriff's office, and has stated they are reaching out to both them and other LEOs to ensure they understand what sort of request is required to get the footage directly from Amazon.

    But the rest is spot-on. The reason I don't have a video doorbell is that I've yet to find one for under $600 that stores the data locally and doesn't connect through some third party server in order to function. I've got one cheap Chinese camera in an out of the way part of the house that's on its own wifi network, stores/encrypts locally, and is still assumed to be sending the complete video and audio feed to the PRC. But there's no way I'd give a public or private organization in America that access to my front door.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2019 @ 1:17pm

    “If we ask within 60 days of the recording and as long as it’s been uploaded to the cloud, then Ring can take it out of the cloud and send it to us legally so that we can use it as part of our investigation,”

    Then why bother asking?
    Just take it, like everything else they do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2019 @ 1:49pm

    Fortunately there is technology to the rescue.

    It appears that animation has reached the point that given a desktop level computer and the appropriate software, which is available, one can manufacture a file that shows anyone doing anything the computer desk Jockey desires. This will of course render whatever it is that Amazon manufactures irrelevant and unreliable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2019 @ 3:57pm

    Fake Doorbell...

    Nothing to see here, just a fake ring of a fake doorbell, with a fake video of President Trump stealing packages off my porch as they explode in glitter....

    OK GO, make it happen...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    WarioBarker (profile), 8 Aug 2019 @ 6:42pm

    Is it just me...

    ...or is there nothing in the scripts to address criticism?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    fairuse (profile), 9 Aug 2019 @ 8:29pm

    Re: Is it just me...

    You are correct.

    The reason I don't have a camera that requires upload to "cloud" or any device waiting for me talk is summed up here. If I need security I'll set up a closed system. Hell, one motion detect flood light causes folks to walk away at night.

    I have some supper nosey neighbors and they will flood coppers with everything going on. Very cool huh?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Smartassicus the Roman, 11 Aug 2019 @ 9:43pm

    Idiots

    Only thoughtless and careless idiots install these off-site-based devices like the ring doorbell and Alexa and Echo, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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