More than 2,000 police and fire departments in the United States have now partnered with Amazon’s Ring camera system, doubling the size of the controversial surveillance network last year.
The figures published by Amazon Friday showed that 1,189 departments in the United States had been added to the schedule in 2020, the total – including 305 fire departments – now in 2014, with 62 added so far in 2021.
All but two of the US states except Montana and Wyoming now have departments involved in the Ring program, which allows managers to contact users in a particular area and ask them to provide images captured via the Ring app to aid surveys.
In 2020, departments collectively requested videos related to more than 22,335 incidents. Amazon would not provide a comparative figure for 2019 – but the dataset shows that the number of forces working with the Ring platform has increased since 2018, when only 60 forces were listed, and since 2019, when there were had 703 on board.
Among the most active forces in the country was Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which made 431 requests in the second half of 2020, more than any other force in the country. Sgt Efrain Cornejo, head of public information, noted the high number of homicides in the city and hundreds of shootings. “For a lot of these types of incidents, we go to video surveillance,” he said.
Ring’s popular doorbell is equipped with a security camera that automatically begins recording whenever its motion sensor is triggered, sending images back to an app where the owner can view them.
The company sparked controversy over its balance sheet on cyber security and privacy. In January 2020, she laid off four employees who had accessed customer video feeds in a way that “went beyond what was necessary for their professional duties.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a longtime privacy group and Ring critic, said the new data reinforced his view that the devices were a “massive and undisputed de facto CCTV surveillance network.” .
Matthew Guariglia, EFF policy analyst, added: “You may be willing to be near a Ring’s camera and microphone, but not your neighbors and pedestrians nearby.”
Much of the concern for privacy activists is the extent to which users may be compelled to transmit data collected by devices. Amazon may be subject to subpoenas, court orders, and search warrants to provide images or identifying data, even if the device owner has explicitly denied access.
In 2020, 1,900 such requests were made, an increase of more than 150% compared to 2019, according to Ring’s revelations. The majority – 1,610 – were search warrants, which can cover both requests for “content” – such as video – and “non-content” such as customer data, including purchase history and information. “Information on the use of the service”.
As the number of legal requests increased, Amazon’s compliance rate fell, with 57% of requests in 2020 resulting in full or partial data transmission, down from 68% the year before.
Amazon said it was refusing requests in the event that it felt the requests were excessive, or if what was requested was no longer available on the company’s servers.
“Like many other businesses, Ring receives and responds to legally binding law enforcement requests for user information that is not overly broad or otherwise inappropriate,” said a spokesperson for Ring.
The effort to quickly partner with the police began after Amazon’s acquisition of Ring in early 2018, in a deal worth more than $ 1 billion.
The effectiveness of Ring’s footage in the fight against crime is disputed. A NBC News survey early last year concluded that there was little evidence of Ring’s influence in assisting arrests or in fighting crime in general.
However, an Amazon spokesperson pointed out well publicized examples of Ring sequences providing evidence of serious incidents – including alleged police brutality – and touted its neighbor app, on which users publicly share footage from their cameras, but also receive local security updates, as a resource for authorities.
Earlier this month, Ring enabled end-to-end encryption, meaning any forcefully handed over file would be nearly impossible to view without the user’s cooperation, including credentials – also encrypted and not independently accessible by Amazon – should be used to decrypt the file. End-to-end encryption is currently opt-in.