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Ring will require police & fire departments to make public requests for video footage

Amazon is changing how law enforcement agencies can obtain footage from Ring, with the changes making clear that the agencies are no longer allowed to contact users directly.

In a revision to guidelines, Amazon has revised previous vague guidance. Going forward, instead of emailing Ring users privately, law enforcement agencies will now be required to make public requests in the Neighbors app.

"Request for Assistance posts can only be issued from verified public safety agency profiles," Amazon said in a blog post on Thursday. "We have guidelines in place to prevent overly broad requests, and all public safety agencies must abide by our Request for Assistance Policy and Guidelines."

If an incident occurs in a user's area, law enforcement agencies have a 12-hour timeframe around an incident to request footage from users in the relevant area. Amazon defines the "relevant area" as being contained within 0.025 and 0.5 square miles around where an incident has occurred.

Amazon does not clarify when the 12-hour timeframe begins or ends, though. If an incident was suspected to occur between 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM, there's no easy way to tell precisely how Amazon determines the relevant timeframe. Users will then be able to tap a button labeled "tap here to help" to provide the videos.

If users choose, they can still directly contact law enforcement agencies. This would allow the sharing of any stored footage that they choose, likely without running it by Amazon first.

The blog also states that police departments are not allowed to intentionally gather information about lawful activities, with protests specifically labeled as prohibited. Requests may not contain hate speech, racial profiling, or "other forms of prejudice," though what those other forms are aren't defined by the company.

While this marks a significant change, civil liberties groups are still not swayed. According to Bloomberg, 35% of voters at Amazon's annual shareholder meeting last week voted for a resolution asking the company to commission a report on whether its surveillance gear spurs human rights violations.

Previously, police and fire departments could obtain Ring surveillance footage simply by asking for it. The only requirement was that Amazon would require a memo of understanding from the police. This process allowed Amazon to ghostwrite press releases from law enforcement, effectively making the security agencies an advertising venue.

In early 2020, it was discovered that the Android Ring app was loaded with third-party trackers, capable of harvesting a plethora of customer data. Data that third parties could gather included IP addresses and customer names.

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