Amazon shares Ring doorbell footage with law enforcement, sometimes without the user’s permission

By Sarah Lynch

July 13, 2022

Ring, the video doorbell from Amazon, is an increasingly popular gadget for homeowners—and, in the last year especially, a growing tool for law enforcement.

In some cases, authorities received data from this tool without the user’s knowledge.

In a recent letter, Amazon shared that it gave Ring footage to law enforcement 11 times this year without the user’s permission. While Ring’s guidelines state that it notifies users prior to disclosure of customer information, the company “reserves the right to respond immediately to urgent law enforcement requests for information in cases involving imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to any person.”

On the whole, government demands for Ring information jumped from 2020 to 2021. In 2021, Ring notified users in regards to 648 information requests.

The company also maintains an official platform, Neighbors Public Safety Service, to allow law enforcement agencies to request information or footage from users. Currently, the app has 2,161 law enforcement agencies and 455 fire departments enrolled, according to the letter from Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president for public policy.

Critics have aired concerns about doorbell cameras for years, and Amazon’s letter addressed a recent investigation from Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who expressed concerns about privacy, data, and Ring’s relationship with law enforcement.

“As my ongoing investigation into Amazon illustrates, it has become increasingly difficult for the public to move, assemble, and converse in public without being tracked and recorded,” Markey said in a statement.

Reached for comment by Fast Company, a Ring spokesperson issued the following statement:

“It’s simply untrue that Ring gives anyone unfettered access to customer data or video, as we have repeatedly made clear to our customers and others. The law authorizes companies like Ring to provide information to government entities if the company believes that an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person, such as a kidnapping or an attempted murder, requires disclosure without delay. Ring faithfully applies that legal standard.”

Huseman, meanwhile, pointed to 100 changes made to “products, policies, and legal practices” after an audit from the Policing Project at New York University (NYU) School of Law.

The global doorbell camera market is projected to see significant industry growth and an expected value of $2.8 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research. More cameras in homes could mean more surveillance footage for law enforcement use.

For Senator Markey, the changes made do not suffice. “We cannot accept this as inevitable in our country,” he said.

This story has been updated with Ring’s statement.