The Erosion of Personal Privacy Through Expansive Warrants and Home Surveillance

Alfred Ng, Politico:

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.

According to Ng, that included video from cameras placed within Larkin’s home, plus his business at a separate address; Ring, owned by Amazon, complied with the warrant, but the police department said it did not receive any interior video.

I wrote about this exact issue a few years ago, back when Ring received just 536 warrants and complied with nearly 80% of them. The problem has only worsened since. A chart in Ng’s article indicates the company received 3,600 data requests in 2022 and, while it no longer discloses its compliance rate, it told U.S. Senator Ed Markey in July that it provided footage to police from doorbells without a warrant or the owner’s permission on eleven occasions in the first half of that year.

If you have a Ring camera, you can enable end-to-end encryption to prevent unauthorized access to your footage. Unfortunately, while that may protect owners’ rights, it does little for the rest of us living in a sea of others’ anxieties.