Amazon Ring, the part of Amazon that makes internet-connected home security cameras, is changing its video-sharing policy in a big way. The company announced this week that it will stop sharing user videos with law enforcement without user consent. Previously, police could ask Amazon for the videos through a tool called Request for Assistance. The feature was available in the Neighbors app, which was designed to allow neighbors and community members to work together to keep their communities safe. However, it quickly became a way for police to get Ring recordings.
As of this week, Amazon says the Request for Assistance tool is being sunset. Although the company reinforces that law enforcement agencies can still monitor the Neighbors app, they cannot request and receive video. Instead, police can only use the app “to share helpful safety tips, updates, and community events.” Amazon notes that law enforcement agency posts will remain publicly accessible for users in the Neighbors app.
The policy shift is a huge win for privacy advocates. It’s easy to see how Ring camera footage could aid police in solving crime. Ring makes some of the most popular doorbells and home security cameras on the market. It’s sometimes difficult to get through a neighborhood without spotting a Ring camera. However, Ring’s policy of handing over recordings to police highlighted everything feared about internet-connected cameras. Users didn’t have the final say over who got to see their Ring recordings.
How police can still get your Ring recordings
There are some ways that Ring can still give your recordings to police, however. This includes something called a “special emergency request,” which can be used if someone is in a life-or-death situation. A spokesperson for Ring told CNET that examples are situations such as “serious physical injury, kidnapping, and attempted murder.” The spokesperson also said that these examples are very rare.
In July 2022, Amazon confirmed that it had successfully granted special emergency requests 11 times over a seven-month period. This is according to a letter Amazon sent to U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), as reported by The Verge. There is no finite protocol for sharing videos. Amazon uses an internal “good-faith determination” instead.
Separately, Amazon will still comply with court orders for video requests, like search warrants and subpoenas. It is legally required to do so. However, it’s important to note that search warrants and subpoenas, for the most part, are specific. Police can’t ask Amazon for all your Ring camera footage. Law enforcement can request specific time periods of footage, provided a judge approves it.
So, what does this mean for you? If you have a Ring camera, you now have more protection against nonconsensual police requests for video. However, there are still ways Amazon can give your video to law enforcement. If anything, it’s another reminder that you should think long and hard about whether you want to install internet-connected cameras.
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