Amazon’s Ring has announced that it will no longer facilitate police's warrantless requests for footage from Ring users. This is a victory in a long fight, not just against blanket police surveillance, but also against a culture in which private, for-profit companies build special tools to allow law enforcement to more easily access companies’ users and their data—all of which ultimately undermine their customers’ trust.
This announcement will also not stop police from trying to get Ring footage directly from device owners without a warrant. Ring users should also know that when police knock on their door, they have the right to—and should—request that police get a warrant before handing over footage.
Years ago, after public outcry and a lot of criticism from EFF and other organizations, Ring ended its practice of allowing police to automatically send requests for footage to a user’s email inbox, opting instead for a system where police had to publicly post requests onto Ring’s Neighbors app. Now, Ring hopefully will altogether be out of the business of platforming casual and warrantless police requests for footage to its users. This is a step in the right direction, but has come after years of cozy relationships with police and irresponsible handling of data (for which they reached a settlement with the FTC). We also helped to push Ring to implement end-to-end encryption. Ring has been forced to make some important concessions—but we still believe the company must do more. Ring can enable their devices to be encrypted end-to-end by default and turn off default audio collection, which reports have shown collect audio from greater distances than initially assumed. We also remain deeply skeptical about law enforcement’s and Ring’s ability to determine what is, or is not, an emergency that requires the company to hand over footage without a warrant or user consent.
Despite this victory, the fight for privacy and to end Ring’s historic ill-effects on society aren’t over. The mass existence of doorbell cameras, whether subsidized and organized into registries by cities or connected and centralized through technologies like Fusus, will continue to threaten civil liberties and exacerbate racial discrimination. Many other companies have also learned from Ring’s early marketing tactics and have sought to create a new generation of police-advertisers who promote the purchase and adoption of their technologies. This announcement will also not stop police from trying to get Ring footage directly from device owners without a warrant. Ring users should also know that when police knock on their door, they have the right to—and should—request that police get a warrant before handing over footage.