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FBI fears smart doorbells could alert owner to being searched


FBI documents say Amazon’s Ring and similar video intercoms can record video like a security camera. Such video footage is sometimes used for both crime investigation and police surveillance.

The Intercept reviewed the BlueLeaks leak files received from law enforcement. One 2019 analysis describes multiple scenarios for police and FBI use of video footage from Ring intercom cameras, but also mentions “emerging issues" related to smart home devices equipped with sensors and cameras.

Secret Service bought user location data

Agencies usually require a warrant or court order to force a company to provide location data for an investigation. But agencies don’t need a warrant if they can buy the data

Specifically, smart devices could give early warning when police are approaching a home to search it, or allow the owner to take law enforcement pictures of the outside of the home, which “poses a risk to their current and future security.”

Some of this is hypothetical. The FBI report also listed motion-activated cameras as a "Special Threat."

As evidence, the FBI points to a 2017 incident in which agents approached someone’s home with a video intercom while trying to search the premises. The resident was not at home, but he saw them approaching by watching the video remotely and then contacted his neighbor and homeowner in advance about the FBI’s advance. He was also able to "quietly monitor law enforcement activities" using a camera.

Smart intercoms do not necessarily capture more information than a security camera could capture. But doorbells like Ring or Google Nest Hello are more common.

At one point, Ring offered law enforcement a "heat map" showing the concentration of cameras in an area, and the company reportedly cooperated with law enforcement, including helping them encourage users to turn over footage needed for an investigation.

Critics argue that this compromises the privacy of people whose neighbors set doorbells, and ironically, law enforcement appears to have similar concerns, although the FBI still sees more positives than negatives in this.

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