Amazon has admitted that it provides footage from its Ring doorbell cameras to law enforcement without permission from the owners, saying it has done so nearly a dozen times this year, but only in “emergency cases.”
In a letter addressed to Democratic Senator Ed Markey (Massachusetts) and published Wednesday by lawmakers, Amazon said it had provided videos to police 11 times so far in 2021, each following “a good faith determination that there was an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury to a person demanding immediate disclosure of information.”
While the company has maintained a policy that allows such sharing without owners’ consent, the letter marks the first time Amazon has admitted to doing so.
The senator was highly critical of the retail giant in light of the disclosure, worrying about: “law enforcement officers rely on private oversight”, what he said would create “an accountability crisis.”
“I am particularly concerned that biometric surveillance could be at the center of the growing web of surveillance systems that Amazon and other powerful tech companies are responsible for,” he added, swore to “continue to monitor these harmful business practices.”
Amazon also reported a fivefold increase in the number of police partnerships with the Ring service since 2019, with 2,161 law enforcement agencies now participating in an image-sharing program. While Markey said the company had committed to recruiting health departments and other institutions to address issues such as homelessness, addiction and mental health, Amazon said it still needed to go beyond police and fire departments.
The company has come under fire in the past for its close ties to police forces, as well as its proprietary facial recognition technology, which was criticized by the ACLU as “prepared for abuse at the hands of governments.” The controversy prompted Amazon to impose a moratorium on law enforcement’s use of its face-detection software in 2020, which was later extended until further notice.
In a statement to Politico, Amazon insisted: “it’s just not true that Ring gives anyone unrestricted access to customer data or video,” adding that footage is only shared if it can save or prevent lives “serious bodily harm.”
Still, Markey and other lawmakers in both houses of Congress have continued to alarm the technology by introducing bills that “Prohibit the use of biometric technology by federal agencies” and limit funding to state and local entities unless they agree to part with facial recognition devices.
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