Amazon-owned home security company Ring is pursuing contracts with police departments that would grant it direct access to real-time emergency dispatch data, Gizmodo has learned.
The California-based company is seeking police departments’ permission to tap into the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) feeds used to automate and improve decisions made by emergency dispatch personnel and cut down on police response times. Ring has requested access to the data streams so it can curate “crime news” posts for its “neighborhood watch” app, Neighbors.
An internal police email dated April 2019, obtained by Gizmodo last week via a records request, stated that more than 225 police departments have entered into partnerships with Ring. (The company has declined to confirm that, or provide the actual number.) Doing so grants the departments access to a Neighbors “law enforcement portal” through which police can request access to videos captured by Ring doorbell cameras.
Ring says it does not provide the personal information of its customers to the authorities without consent. To wit, the company has positioned itself as an intermediary through which police request access to citizen-captured surveillance footage. When police make a request, they don’t know who receives it, Ring says, until a user chooses to share their video. Users are also prompted with the option to review their footage before turning it over.
Through its police partnerships, Ring has requested access to CAD, which includes information provided voluntarily by 911 callers, among other types of data automatically collected. CAD data is typically compromised of details such as names, phone numbers, addresses, medical conditions and potentially other types of personally identifiable information, including, in some instances, GPS coordinates.
In an email Thursday, Ring confirmed it does receive location information, including precise addresses from CAD data, which it does not publish to its app. It denied receiving other forms of personal information.
According to some internal documents, police CAD data is received by Ring’s “Neighbors News team” and is then reformatted before being posted on Neighbors in the form of an “alert” to users in the vicinity of the alleged incident.
Earlier this year, when the Seattle Police Department sought access to CAD software, it triggered a requirement for a privacy impact report under a city ordinance concerning the acquisition of any “surveillance technologies.”
According to the definition adopted by the city, a technology has surveillance capability if it can be used “to collect, capture, transmit, or record data that could be used to surveil, regardless of whether the data is obscured, de-identified, or anonymized before or after collection and regardless of whether technology might be used to obscure or prevent the capturing of certain views or types of information.”
Some CAD systems, such as those marketed by Central Square Technologies (formerly known as TriTech), are used to locate cellular callers by sending text messages that force the return of a phone-location service tracking report. CAD systems also pull in data automatically from phone companies, including ALI information—Automatic Location Identification—which is displayed to dispatch personnel whenever a 911 call is placed. CAD uses these details, along with manually entered information provided by callers, to make fast, initial decisions about which police units and first responders should respond to which calls.
According to Ring’s materials, the direct address, or latitude and longitude, of 911 callers is among the information the Neighbors app requires police to provide, along with the time of the incident, and the category and description of the alleged crime.
Ring said that while it uses CAD data to generate its “News Alerts,” sensitive details, such as the direct address of an incident or the number of police units responding, are never included.
Oddly enough no mention is made of voice recordings. Considering Amazon is building a huge database of voices and people through Alexa, cross referencing the two should be trivial and allow Amazon to surveil the population more closely