TL;DR: I’ve been filing FOIAs like crazy. See what I got back!
Over the past few weeks, I have filed dozens of public records requests to agencies all over the country. So far, I have received over 3000 pages of documents, emails, and contracts related to police partnerships with Amazon Ring and will be adding more as I
pry them loose receive them. You can go through all of those documents on DocumentCloud. If you are a reporter, feel free to use any information you find in these documents – my only request is that you provide proper credit. As always, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
Here’s some quick things I’ve noticed:
Internal policies and procedures related to Ring
Ring provides law enforcement agencies with a sample SOP, which can be viewed below:
Despite these sample procedures, however, no law enforcement agency has responded to my requests with internal policies for Ring cameras or the Neighbors app – the standard response, instead, has been that no such policies have been developed. This means, among other things, that agencies have no data retention policies specific to Ring, no policies about evidentiary considerations, no documented procedures related to how video requests are made, and no internal policies related to the scoping of requests.
Police agencies frequently make requests for footage over a large span of time, such as an 8-hour range. CNET reporter Alfred Ng wrote about this point based on documents I obtained from Bensenville, IL. Such examples abound in requests from other agencies. Considering the large number of responses that agencies typically receive, this can add up to a significant amount of footage. For example, Rolling Meadows, IL received more than 50 submissions for a request of 8 hours of footage, seemingly totaling more than 400 hours of video.
Without agencies developing explicit data retention policies with regards to Ring, it is unclear what happens to such footage, which, in some cases, amounts to thousands of hours of video. According to police reports, in one case, Crystal Lake, IL deleted footage from over 100 videos after finding no evidence in them. Whether other agencies retain all footage or delete it is unknown.
Documents received provide more clarity over the ways law enforcement agencies can obtain Ring camera footage. Currently, there are three main ways that law enforcement can obtain Ring camera footage from Ring:
- Police departments with access to Ring’s law enforcement portal can make a request for videos through the portal. This usually requires a signed MOU. In exigent circumstances, Ring might give police departments one-time access (pre-MOU) to the portal, as happened with Crystal Lake during (warning: disturbing) the AJ Freund case.
- Agencies can obtain a search warrant for Ring footage, if they identify the specific devices that they are interested in.
- Agencies can obtain consent from users to obtain footage by asking them to fill out and email the following form.
Ring and the Media
Previous reporting has demonstrated the desire of Ring to maintain complete control over public perception of its program.
Gizmodo reporter Dell Cameron recently wrote an article describing how Ring prevents the use of the words “surveillance” and “security cameras” in press statements. Documents obtained from Rolling Meadows, IL and Lincolnwood, IL illustrate that this was not just a one-time occurrence.
In the case of Rolling Meadows, IL, Ring justified avoiding the word “surveillance” due to fear of “user privacy concerns”:
In addition to press releases, Ring tried to control all public statements made by police agencies. For example, in one case, the Joliet Police Department seem to have cancelled an interview with Alfred Ng after a phone call with Ring.