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Amazon's Relationship with Police Causes Privacy Nightmare for Honest Citizen

Amazon's Relationship with Police Causes Privacy Nightmare for Honest Citizen

The Amazon-owned Ring home security camera system has developed a “symbiotic” relationship with police, and creates a privacy nightmare for honest citizens by handing over private video footage to law enforcement without much pushback. Late last year, when Ohio business owner Michael Larkin cooperated with police who were investigating his neighbor by handing over video footage from his front door Ring camera, the situation spiraled out of control due to the actions of the Amazon-owned company, according to events in a report by Politico. Jeff Bezos/Instagram Larkin initially cooperated by giving police the footage from his Ring video doorbell — which more than 10 million Americans reportedly have installed at their front doors — thinking that was all they’d need. But as time went on, authorities kept asking for more footage, which the Ohio business owner found burdensome, so he stopped complying. After that, Larkin no longer heard from the detective, but then later received an email from Ring, informing him that his account was the subject of a warrant from the Hamilton Police Department. A judge had signed off on a warrant giving local police access to all of Larkin’s security camera footage — including footage from inside his home — for an investigation that had nothing to do with him. While Ring says it can deny requests, provide partial responses, or hand over everything that’s included in the warrant, in Larkin’s case, the Amazon-owned company handed everything over to police. The warrant included all five of Larkin’s outdoor cameras, a sixth camera inside his house, as well as any other videos from cameras associated with his account, which included footage recorded from 13 cameras installed at his store. But Ring didn’t have to just hand all of Larkin’s footage over to law enforcement. While the company is legally obligated to cooperate with police when it receives a warrant, it could have pushed back on what it provided if the request seemed too overreaching. Ring spokesperson Brendan Daley told Politico “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.” But in Larkin’s case, the company obviously didn’t. A reason for this could be that as doorbell cameras have grown more popular, so has Ring’s relationship with law enforcement. Police departments have even been known to give away Ring doorbells, which were provided to them by the company. “Ring developed a symbiotic relationship with police, who realized that the privately owned cameras were generating valuable surveillance footage that they could leverage for investigations,” Politico noted. While the Fourth Amendment protects Americans from broad police searches, making it so that affidavits have to be specific (specifying which item that’s being searched for and which room it’s in), the lines are blurrier when it comes to electronic communications, as the legal system has yet to catch up to the digital world. “That says to me that the cops can go in and subpoena anybody, no matter how weak their evidence is,” Larkin said of the police being granted a warrant to access all of his camera footage, despite the investigation being on his neighbor. Read more at Politico here. You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram..

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