Police can access footage from your Google or Amazon cameras, even without a warrant

US law allows smart security camera makers to let police view footage in an emergency, without the need for a warrant or consent. Does this situation concern French users?

Google Nest Cam Battery on stand
The Nest Cam battery camera on its base // Source: Google

Ring, Amazon’s smart doorbell brand, has come under heavy criticism from privacy activists, reports cnet. Since the beginning of the year, the company has sent video footage to US police on eleven occasions without the consent of the users concerned. In some cases, the police did not have a warrant, but were still able to access the footage. These urgent requests concerned cases of kidnapping, self-harm and attempted murder “, without it being known from which countries or from which agencies they came.

The justification given by Amazon is that “ in each case, Ring has determined in good faith that there is an imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm to a person requiring the disclosure of information without delay Amazon spokesperson Brian Huseman told the media. He describes it as ” emergencies “, which require to react quickly.

The danger of police abuse

On the one hand, urgent situations, although very rare, can very well exist and you have to be able to react very quickly. However, for the NGO Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which aims to defend the privacy of citizens in the digital context, this can represent a danger in relation to potential abuses by the police.

For EFF analysts Jason Kelley and Matthew Guariglia, ” IThere is no process for a judge or the owner of the device to determine if there really has been an emergency. This could easily lead to police abuse: there will always be the temptation for the police to use it for less and less urgent situations. “.

We can, however, take the problem in the other direction. Some users may prefer to let the police see the footage from their connected security camera, not for the protection of their privacy, but for the protection of their life at all.

Ring’s decision-making process: under what conditions does it give access to the videos to the police?

What interests us here are urgent requests where timing is very important. Ring says to separate requests for images from law enforcement between a non-emergency investigation and an urgent request. Each request is reviewed by Ring’s legal team and in emergency requests the police must complete a form.

The company asks the public authorities to provide ” details about the emergency, including who is in immediate danger, what information they believe Ring has, and how that information can help respond to the emergency “. They must also explain why she does not have enough time to obtain a valid search warrant. Ring says she refuses emergency requests when she thinks police have time to get clearance.

Ring Video Doorbell Wired

However, the Amazon subsidiary did not tell cnet if it informed affected users that the police had gained access to their connected security camera footage. Where Amazon has not been transparent is that these warrantless emergency user information requests are not counted in Ring’s transparency reports on requests. law enforcement.

cnet recalls that ” regardless of manufacturer or device, your digital fingerprint will always be subject to a subpoena and companies that process user data will always be subject to access requests from the police “.

What are Google and other connected security camera brands doing?

Manufacturers of connected security cameras, there are others, such as Google with its Nest cameras. Most manufacturers are keen to retain the right to release user images to public authorities when they have a warrant.

On the Google side, we learn on a page dedicated to government requests for user information what the web giant has decided for emergency information requests. It is written that ” If we have reasonable grounds to believe that we can prevent someone from dying or sustaining serious physical injury, we may provide information to a government agency (for example, in connection with bomb threats, shootings in a school, kidnappings, suicide prevention and the search for missing persons). We will always consider such requests in accordance with applicable laws and our rules “. Unfortunately, these privacy policies do not specify whether Google agrees to send information to the police without a warrant.

The new Nest Cam Indoor
The new Nest Cam Indoor camera // Source: Google

Google plans to notify affected users when it receives such a request, unless it is prohibited from doing so: We may also not inform it in cases of emergency, for example if the safety of a child or the life of a person is threatened. In this case, we will notify the user if we learn that the emergency is no longer topical “.

A Nest spokesperson interviewed by cnet said the company reserves the right to release information, such as images or video, to law enforcement, even if they don’t have a warrant. This in the event that it considers that a ” emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requires the immediate disclosure of communications relating to the emergency “. Google is allowed to send information to the police, but is not obliged to do so, it is according to its will. The group, however, specifies that it has never done this, but has reaffirmed its right to do so.

The Arlo brand has taken a completely different approach to these emergency demands. For his spokesperson, If a situation is urgent enough for law enforcement to request a warrantless search of Arlo’s property, that situation should also be urgent enough for law enforcement or a prosecutor to request an immediate hearing. a judge for the issuance of a warrant to be served promptly on Arlo “. While we have every right to question the way our data stored by digital actors is processed, Arlo has the ability to question the way the police and justice system works.

She therefore ruled that she would not give images to the police without coercion. Likewise on the side of Wyze for example, which requires a valid assignment.

Another positioning exists, it is end-to-end encryption. This is what Eufy does, or Apple in particular with the HomeKit Secure Video protocol, ” which means even Apple can’t access it “, According to one of its spokespersons. Ring offers this option, although it severely restricts the functionality of its smart doorbells. Impossible to visualize what the camera sees in real time for example.

Can Ring provide videos of French users to the French police?

On its French page relating to data privacy issues, Ring states that ” Before sharing user information (including videos) in response to legal requests, Ring Company requires the relevant departments to directly send a written request for personal information (e.g., subpoenas, search warrants or court orders) “.

Where Ring is a bit fuzzier is on its page Legal Process Recommendations for Law Enforcement Authorities. The company writes that, under required legal procedures in the United States, it ” will not release any user-related information to authorities except in response to a legally valid request directed and addressed to Ring “, but specifying that it is ” generally “.

The Ring Video Doorbell 4 video doorbell
The Ring Video Doorbell 4 video doorbell // Source: Ring

Further down the page, we learn that in exceptional or urgent circumstances, “ Ring reserves the right to provide information to law enforcement authorities, without due process, in circumstances that pose an immediate threat to the safety of one or more persons. “.

While it’s unclear whether Ring passes information to French authorities, the company may very well do so, even if they don’t have a search warrant, in emergency situations. However, this is Amazon’s will and not a legal obligation. Amazon has not yet specified whether it has already taken such action in France or within the European Union.

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