Amazon is facing new criticism over the privacy policies of its connected doorbell company Ring, which has entered into partnerships with more than 600 police departments in the U.S.
Through those partnerships, police forces can request that Ring users provide access to video footage captured by the doorbells. If the users agree, Amazon shares their footage without limits on how long the police can retain the material or whether police can share the footage with others.
That lack of restriction poses a risk to civil liberties, Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) said Tuesday.
“If you’re an adult walking your dog or a child playing on the sidewalk, you shouldn’t have to worry that Ring’s products are amassing footage of you and that law enforcement may hold that footage indefinitely or share that footage with any third parties,” Markey stated. “Amazon is not doing enough to ensure that its products and practices do not run afoul of our civil liberties.”
Markey questioned Amazon about its Ring policies earlier this year, shortly after news reports surfaced about the company's relationship with police forces.
Among other questions, the lawmaker asked whether Amazon attempted to ensure that police were seeking the footage as part of a criminal investigation.
Markey also asked whether the company takes steps to prevent capturing videos of children younger than 13.
Brian Huseman, vice president for public policy at Amazon, said in a response released by Markey on Tuesday that the company doesn't require the police to meet any evidentiary standard before requesting the videos.
“The local police are simply asking Ring users if they have any relevant footage or other information they are willing to voluntarily share in order to assist the police; the police are not seeking to compel such assistance,” Huseman wrote. “Users must expressly choose to assist police, the same way they would traditionally answer the door or respond to a public request for tips.”
He added that the company doesn't provide names or addresses of Ring users, or state who refused to provide access to video footage.
“Police cannot selectively target Ring’s users based on a user declining a request,” he wrote. “Ring does not disclose customer information in response to government demands unless required to do so to comply with a legally valid and binding order, such as a search warrant; or in an exigent or emergency circumstance.”
Huseman also said that Ring has no way to know whether the the doorbells capture images of children.
The advocacy group Fight for the Future responded to news of Amazon's policies with a call for Congress to investigate.
“Through consumer products like Ring, Amazon is collecting footage and all the data needed to build a nationwide surveillance network,” Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, stated. “This is an unprecedented assault on our security, constitutionally protected rights, and communities. Amazon’s admissions to Senator Markey show that we need an immediate full scale Congressional investigation into this tech titan’s surveillance practices.”