Amazon Transparency Report Indicates Its Multiple IoT Devices Are Juicy Targets For Law Enforcement


Never forget the IoT device you invite into your home may become the state's witness. That's one of the unfortunate conclusions that can be drawn from Amazon's latest transparency report.

Amazon has its own digital assistant, Alexa. On top of that, it has its acquisitions. One of its more notable gets is Ring. Ring is most famous for its doorbells -- something that seems innocuous until you examine the attached camera and the company's 2,000 partnerships with law enforcement agencies.

Ring is in the business of selling cameras. That the doorbell may alert you to people on your doorstep is incidental. Cameras on the inside. Cameras on the outside. All in the name of "security." And it's only as secure as the people pitching them to consumers. Ring's lax security efforts have led to harassment and swatting, the latter of which tends to end up with people dead.

Malicious dipshits have been using credentials harvested from multitudinous breaches to harass people with Ring cameras. The worst of these involve false reports to law enforcement about activity requiring armed response. That no one has ended up dead is a miracle, rather than an indicator of law enforcement restraint.

Ring wants you to hand over footage to law enforcement agencies. That's why it partners with agencies to hand out cameras for free and instructs officers how to obtain footage without a warrant. That's also why it stays ahead in the PR game, handling press releases and public statements it feels law enforcement officials are too clumsy to handle on their own.

And gather footage law enforcement does, as Zack Whittaker reports for TechCrunch. Omnipresent IoT devices give law enforcement plenty of recordings and other information -- with or without the consent of device owners and with or without the warrants they would normally need.

Amazon said it processed 27,664 government demands for user data in the last six months of 2020, up from 3,222 data demands in the first six months of the year, an increase of close to 800%. That user data includes shopping searches and data from its Echo, Fire and Ring devices.

While it's good to see warrants were involved in a majority of these cases, the unfortunate fact is a lot of this isn't considered protected under the Fourth Amendment and can be obtained with nothing more than a subpoena. Third party data isn't -- for the most part -- shielded by the Constitution.

The silver lining is that someone is likely to challenge warrantless acquisition of footage or data. The third party doctrine isn't as immutable as it used to be and federal courts have been interpreting the Supreme Court's Carpenter decision (which dealt with long-term tracking via cell site location info) to cover more than the justices originally envisioned when they handed down their ruling.

Even so, consumers should be aware that their internet-connected devices are generating a wealth of information about their habits, movements, and the people they associate with. And a lot of it can be had without judicial oversight. These devices are useful but they're also low-level informants. And anyone who invites Ring or Alexa into their home needs to be aware of their downsides and weigh that against the security or convenience they gain from having an always-on, internet-connected snitch. Those who feel they have nothing to hide may be unpleasantly surprised in the future.

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Filed Under: alexa, government demands, iot, law enforcement, ring, surveillance
Companies: amazon

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  1. identicon
    Isabella Di Fabio, 9 Feb 2021 @ 8:44am

    Alexa is a great digital assistant

    I think Alexa is a great digital assistant!

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