When people in Virginia buy technologically advanced doorbells, they may not realize that they are also signing up for an agreement with the police. Ring is one company, recently purchased by Amazon, that produces doorbells with a video feed. Homeowners can see who is at the door by checking the connected app on their mobile phones. However, police have a special portal into Ring. They can request video from community residents who are using the app. This may not seem too troubling as it relies on voluntary interactions. However, if the owners don’t turn over the footage, police can go to the company directly without seeking a warrant or showing probable cause.
Built into the agreement when people sign up for Ring is permission for the police to access their data. Police agencies argue that consumers are aware of the surveillance potential of the systems and that “good upstanding” people have nothing to fear. Amazon is asking police agencies to join community boards in order to encourage people to freely provide their data to the police. However, civil liberties organizations warn that many people do not really read the full user agreements that accompany apps. They might think the data is their own and not subject to police review.
Some companies do require warrants before turning over detailed information, but many only require a subpoena. These do not require any demonstration of probable cause. These companies include Facebook, Instagram, Uber, Lyft, Netflix and Twitter. Snapchat does not even necessarily require a subpoena before turning information over to police agencies.
People who are facing criminal charges on an array of matters, including drug allegations, may be troubled by the possibility of social media evidence in their cases. A criminal defense attorney may help people to protect their online security and argue against police misuse of technology.