he week of last Thanksgiving, Michael Larkin, a business owner in Hamilton, Ohio, picked up his phone and answered a call. It was the local police, and they wanted footage from Larkin’s front door camera.
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Larkin had a Ring video doorbell, one of the more than 10 million Americans with the Amazon-owned product installed at their front doors. His doorbell was among 21 Ring cameras in and around his home and business, picking up footage of Larkin, neighbors, customers and anyone else near his house.
The police said they were conducting a drug-related investigation on a neighbor, and they wanted videos of “suspicious activity” between 5 and 7 p.m. one night in October. Larkin cooperated, and sent clips of a car that drove by his Ring camera more than 12 times in that time frame.
He thought that was all the police would need. Instead, it was just the beginning.
They asked for more footage, now from the entire day’s worth of records. And a week later, Larkin received a notice from Ring itself: The company had received a warrant, signed by a local judge. The notice informed him it was obligated to send footage from more than 20 cameras — whether or not Larkin was willing to share it himself.
Home surveillance cameras
As networked home surveillance cameras become more popular, Larkin’s case, which has not previously been reported, illustrates a growing collision between the law and people’s own expectation of privacy for the devices they own — a loophole that concerns privacy advocates and Democratic lawmakers, but which the legal system hasn’t fully grappled with.
Questions of who owns private home security footage, and who can get access to it, have become a bigger issue in the national debate over digital privacy. And when law enforcement gets involved, even the slim existing legal protections evaporate.
“It really takes the control out of the hands of the homeowners, and I think that’s hugely problematic,” said Jennifer Lynch, the surveillance litigation director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group.
In the debate over home surveillance, much of the concern has focused on Ring in particular, because of its popularity, as well as the company’s track record of cooperating closely with law enforcement agencies. The company offers a multitude of products such as indoor cameras or spotlight cameras for homes or businesses, recording videos based on motion activation, with the footage stored for up to 180 days on Ring’s servers.
They amount to a large and unregulated web of eyes on American communities — which can provide law enforcement valuable information in the event of a crime, but also create a 24/7 recording operation that even the owners of the cameras aren’t fully aware they’ve helped to build.
“They are part of an ever-expanding web of surveillance in communities across America,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement to POLITICO about Ring’s products. “I’ve been ringing alarms about this company’s threats to our privacy and civil liberties for years.”
Markey has publicly criticized the company and also questioned Ring on its policies in letters, but hasn’t introduced any legislation to address the privacy implications of networked home-surveillance devices.
Asked about its policies, Ring said it doesn’t automatically hand over footage in response to every request from law enforcement. “We review all legal documents served on us, and if we have reason to believe that a demand is overbroad, we question the request and may ask law enforcement to suggest a more limited production of information,” Ring spokesperson Brendan Daley said in a statement.
take from: https://www.politico.com/