FBI Horrified To Discover Ring Doorbells Can Tip Off Citizens To The Presence Of Federal Officers At Their Door

from the those-bastards-and-their-surreptitious-cameras dept

Ring's camera/doorbells may as well be branded with local law enforcement agency logos. Since Amazon acquired the company, Ring has cornered the law enforcement-adjacent market for home security products, partnering with hundreds of agencies to get Ring's products into the hands of residents. A lot of this flows directly through police departments, which can get them almost for free as long as they push citizens towards using Ring's snitch app, Neighbors, and allow Ring to handle the PR work.

So, it's hilarious to find out the FBI is concerned about Ring cameras, considering the company's unabashed love for all things law enforcement. The Intercept -- diving back into the "Blue Leaks" stash of exfiltrated law enforcement documents -- has posted an FBI "Technical Analysis Bulletin" [PDF] warning cops about the threat Ring cameras pose to cops. After celebrating the golden age of surveillance the Internet of Things has ushered in, the FBI notes that doorbell cameras see everyone who comes to someone's door -- even if it's people who'd rather the absent resident remained unaware of.

The document describes a 2017 incident in which FBI agents approached a New Orleans home to serve a search warrant and were caught on video. “Through the Wi-Fi doorbell system, the subject of the warrant remotely viewed the activity at his residence from another location and contacted his neighbor and landlord regarding the FBI’s presence there,” it states.

Ratted out by home security tech -- the kind often pushed on residents by law enforcement officers hoping to expand their surveillance networks by deputizing doorbells. Ring's cameras aren't just mute witnesses. Owners receive notifications when someone comes to their door and, depending on model, are able to hold conversations with them using built-in mics and speakers.

This means the sneak-and-peek feds might have been overhead discussing their tactical plans or specifics about the investigation. Hilarious. And this is how another FBI document on the subject of doorbells puts it, turning a normal home security device into a devious tool to be wielded against law enforcement:

“[S]ubject was able to see and hear everything happening at his residence” and possibly “covertly monitor law enforcement activity while law enforcement was on the premises…"

Covert monitoring is the best monitoring, as these FBI agents are well-aware. Sucks when it's the alleged perps doing the covert monitoring, I guess. And it sucks when the FBI decides now is the time to be hot and bothered when security cameras have been catching cops visiting/raiding properties for years. Audio recording isn't some new technology either, so if cops haven't been clued into this possibility already, they have no one to blame but themselves.

The documents are fascinating, and not just because they appear to turn Ring into a co-conspirator in crimes after so many years of being besties with law enforcement. It also shows how much goes unnoticed by people who routinely cite their years of training and experience when applying for search warrants. This should have been obvious from day one.

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Filed Under: doorbells, fbi, ring, surveillance, warrants
Companies: amazon, ring


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  • identicon
    Kitsune106, 8 Sep 2020 @ 5:29am

    The best idea

    Would have been to keep quiet. Now it will be streisand time.

    And now lawyers can argue that cops and feds doing coverrt is not best practice, bad. By pointing to this. After all, of bad.for the servants of people, has to be bad for the people.....m

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

  • icon
    wshuff (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 5:50am

    Cue Bill Barr’s angry call for tech companies to nerd harder and come up with a secure back door that lets the Ring camera see and hear everybody but law enforcement. But only real law enforcement. Not bad guys pretending to be law enforcement.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2020 @ 5:54am

      Re:

      I thought the line was "everyone who looks like law enforcement", meaning that fake police should be just as coddled (lets give them QI too) as real police.

      /s

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

      • identicon
        Kitsune106, 8 Sep 2020 @ 6:00am

        Re: Re:hmmm

        So if someone tells out police during a raid, does that mean that everyone, including other police, have to check fire? As in the moment, they would have told police. And if firing without looking, or checking, won't police hate crime laws effect them too?

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

        • icon
          Bergman (profile), 9 Sep 2020 @ 9:48am

          Re: Re: Re:hmmm

          Many home invasion type robbers will yell "police, police" as they break into a house. They know it will make residents hesitate long enough that by the time they realize it's not the police it's too late to resist.

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

    • icon
      Norahc (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 11:53am

      Re:

      Not bad guys pretending to be law enforcement

      Then there would be no body to use the backdoors, so no sense even making them.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 12:38pm

      Re:

      But, but..
      I call it an easy solution.
      Take your pick.
      PAINTBALL GUN..
      Frequency scrambler, for any network, 2.5/5g on your wifi is pretty simple to block. But you would also block 1/2 the neighbors..
      Or just disconnect his CABLE/Digital lines. Unless someone was REALLY paranoid and setup the modem to use the wireless system/Cellphone, IT wont be going anywhere.

      This is getting strange, where are the basic thinkers in any of this. It was an old way to Climb a nearby pole or call the Phone corp, and get it disconnected for a few minutes. Easy/peasy.

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

    • identicon
      Bobvious, 8 Sep 2020 @ 2:17pm

      Re: secure backdoor

      "secure back door that lets the Ring camera see and hear everybody but law enforcement."

      Simples. Law enforcement just has to go to the location's BACKDOOR instead of the front door. They're only installing the cameras up front. Besides it won't be long before wearable technology allows the FBI to wear special clothing with flexible LCD screens and cameras that make them appear invisible to people by showing the image behind the feds on the "screens" in front. That way the ring cameras won't see them.

      Either that, or wear a shrub.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2020 @ 5:51am

    FBI seems to hate recordings

    They prefer if all meetings with them are verbal only with their version of what happened being the only one used to determine if you lied or not. Having actual footage means that their account has to fit what actually happened.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2020 @ 5:52am

    Hmmm too bad the tech simply doesn't exist to have on-premise hw "bug" unwanted guest (especially those that should be constrained by things like the constitution).

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2020 @ 5:54am

    Technology is objective ,it can be used to catch burglars or watch the cops fbi breaking into a home.
    It can be used to spy on innocent citizens or else used to record extreme police brutality towards innocent black people .
    It sounds like the fbi were trying to look for documents or evidence but did not expect the criminal to have acess to a ring camera.

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

  • identicon
    Michael, 8 Sep 2020 @ 5:59am

    Any law enforcement officer than needed to get a technical analysis bulletin of this particular situation should be dismissed immediately.

    Great use of tax payer money writing up this analysis guys.

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

    • identicon
      Kitsune106, 8 Sep 2020 @ 6:02am

      Re: well

      Could they not always ask to ring to turn off the thing going in? I mean if they are checking out they know what people have so should be able to use all writs act or a warrant to have ring turn off or disable alert feature?

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

      • icon
        BernardoVerda (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 12:05pm

        Re: Re: well

        What an excellent idea.

        Make it Standard Operating Procedure to deactivate a security/surveillance system -- without the owner's consent or knowledge -- whenever some unrelated party would find it convenient to subvert the owners security...

        What could possibly go wrong?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2020 @ 3:29pm

          Re: Re: Re: well

          They are probably working put the details as we type.

          I recall a while back, some leo wanted tech companies to incorporate a kill switch in all recording devices and give them the controls. Whatever happened to that, hope it died.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2020 @ 12:31pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: well

            tech companies to incorporate a kill switch in all recording devices

            It's called Cinavia. Surprised it's not used much by law enforcement.

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

            • icon
              Uriel-238 (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 2:00pm

              Cinavia

              Looks like DRM based on antagonistic interoperability. The end result is grey market devices that are not Cinavia compliant. Also pirates will eventually learn to detect and strip the watermarks.

              When speeding is so easy, everyone on the freeway ignores the speed limits, until it becomes dangerous to follow them.

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

  • identicon
    Peter, 8 Sep 2020 @ 6:11am

    Oh, no

    "We thought this technology was going to be the one that finally gives us the edge in law enforcement, but those dogon damn crooks found a way to use technology against us......again! Now, how do we ban them?"

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

  • identicon
    Peter, 8 Sep 2020 @ 6:34am

    "Hang on"

    "Does this mean we might have to start actually knocking and announcing from now on"

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 7:34am

      Re: "Hang on"

      Of course not. That's what no-knock warrants are for.

      Or you can just spy the camera and consider that sufficient evidence of malfeasance to justify armed intrusion.

      The use civil forfeiture law to rip the whole Ring setup straight out of the wall and cart it off as "probably guilty of something".

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

      • identicon
        Kitsune106, 8 Sep 2020 @ 8:01am

        Re: Re: "Hang on"

        The eavesdropping laws. it listened in to private police matters when they talked shop to each other. i mean, they arrested people for videoing police on those laws. and given its property and not a person, well...

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 9 Sep 2020 @ 3:46am

          Re: Re: Re: "Hang on"

          "and given its property and not a person, well..."

          Yup. Civil Forfeiture for teh win. It's not as if whatever object is "arrested" will be claiming its legal counsel and day in court...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2020 @ 6:49am

    And... when has this sort of thing ever stopped trigger-happy enforcers? Next time they'll just nuke the location from orbit just to make sure...

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

  • icon
    rkhalloran (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 7:17am

    Cops don't get it both ways...

    On the one hand, they want everyone with Ring-or-similar to volunteer them to LE to avoid them actually having to do boots-on-the-ground patrolling. On the other hand, it creates an offsite copy of any cases of their overstepping (dang, can't just seize and "lose" someone's cell phone to cover up), which I'm sure any lawyers looking to have QI overturned will find soooo useful.

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

  • identicon
    Rocky, 8 Sep 2020 @ 7:48am

    That old joke...

    This reminds me of an old joke:

    Police knocks on the door.
    Resident: Who's there?
    Police: It's the police.
    Resident: What do you want?
    Police: We just wanna talk.
    Resident: How many of you are there?
    Police: Four
    Resident: Then talk to each other!

    I guess now we can shorten it down to:

    Resident: What do you want?
    Police: We just wanna talk.
    Resident: Then talk to each other!

    Damn Ring, destroying jokes like that...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2020 @ 10:04am

      Re: That old joke...

      ... And during the day, the police showed up.

      How did you know it was the police?

      Well, they were wearing uniforms.

      Could have been the postman...

      Naw, the Ring always postmans twice.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 8:02am

    'No fair, that's our thing!'

    Wow, sucks when someone records what you're saying and doing without your knowledge, doesn't it?

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

    • icon
      Norahc (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 9:36am

      Re: 'No fair, that's our thing!'

      Wow, sucks when someone records what you're saying and doing without your knowledge, doesn't it?

      Just wait till they start filing charges against the resident for "illegaly" recording cops.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 10:18am

        Re: Re: 'No fair, that's our thing!'

        I'd like to mark that as funny/too absurd to be real, but sadly these days I'm going to have to go with a insightful/'sad but almost certainly to end up true' vote.

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

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 3:16pm

          Illegally recording law enforcement

          It's all right. We're arrested for who we are not what we did. That comes later and justifies the arrest, but it's really because someone didn't like our skin color, our religion, our lifestyle, our choice of partners, whatever. They don't arrest the good ones.

          It won't matter much once we're uncitizened and incarcerated.

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

          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 9 Sep 2020 @ 3:51am

            Re: Illegally recording law enforcement

            "We're arrested for who we are not what we did."

            Well...some arguments heard by LEO's would, by extension, have "Being Born Brown" be a deliberate act of willful malice in itself.

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

  • icon
    idearat (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 9:16am

    Time for some spy vs spy

    Since there's an option to let local law enforcement monitor your Ring cameras, the next step could be for them to ask Ring to give them the ability to block motion detection and recording for a region around the house in question.

    Then users will will get a 3rd party app that monitors the realtime feed and notify them if it goes dark. Optionally starting up an an alternate camera.

    Then law enforcement encourages Ring to disable the 3rd party app access due to "security concerns"

    On a related note, a friend had me install a Ring doorbell ( against my better judgement) and when it asked for the address as part of the setup we gave it a non-existant address between two house numbers on the other side the street. No sense making it too easy for a potential hacker to know which house has people coming or going or packages on the porch.

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 8 Sep 2020 @ 11:45am

    When you don't live in the real world, it's hard to see the obvious.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2020 @ 3:04pm

    Windows: Enemy of law enforcement.

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

  • identicon
    TRX, 9 Sep 2020 @ 8:38am

    Ring is buddy-buddy with the cops. What will happen now is, the police will simply request that any Ring devices nearby - not just at the warrant address - be blocked from the system or remotely turned off while the police are there. And Ring will happily comply.

    If they'd been smart, they would have used the Ring video to make sure their targets were, you know, actually home, before armoring up and charging out of the station...

    Cops don't like to be watched; that's why so many of them strongly oppose bodycams. And that's why I wear a bodycam, and my homebuilt home security system spools video to an off-site server.

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

  • identicon
    Uly, 9 Sep 2020 @ 12:39pm

    As to why it took the FBI so long to figure this out, they're notoriously tech-averse. Computers get in the way of policing, after all....

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

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 9 Sep 2020 @ 8:03pm

    Atom blaster points both ways equally well. News at eleven.

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


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