Google may give US law enforcement agencies access to footage for emergencies without warrant
In certain circumstances, Google may share Nest security camera footage with law enforcement agencies in the US. The revelation comes just weeks after Amazon made headlines for giving away video footage from its Ring security cameras to law enforcement, all without a warrant. Google says it only shares data with law enforcement in case of emergency, though the specific definition of “emergency” may depend on the police.
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According to a CNET report, Amazon and Google are the only companies currently following this emergency exercise. Arlo, Eufy, Wyze, and Apple have all confirmed to the publication that they do not share data unless there is an appropriate warrant or court order.
The definition of an “emergency” that warrants this instant sharing seems vague. Both Google and Amazon say that in most cases, law enforcement agencies are required to follow due procedures and produce warrants, subpoenas or other court orders. But when it comes to emergencies, Ring only asks law enforcement to fill out a two-page form, saying it’s only meant to be used when “any person requires the disclosure of information without delay.” to be in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.” These are then reviewed by a dedicated team that decides whether the request is honored or denied, although the process does not seem to be very transparent.
Google follows similar practices. The company leaves the door open for data sharing with law enforcement in the event of an emergency, although there was no further information on the process given. Google cites the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which states that providers such as Google may share information with legal force without subpoena. However, it’s not mandatory—after all, there’s a “may” in that sentence.
The other companies mentioned — Arlo, Eufy, Wyze, and Apple — clarify that they are not legally required to share data. In fact, both Apple and Eufy use end-to-end encryption and can’t share footage at all because they don’t have access to it. This is not the case with Arlo and Wyze, but they make clear that if an emergency requires access to the cameras, law enforcement agencies can easily jump through hoops of obtaining a warrant, which is required to be accessed by law enforcement agencies. It does not require much effort and time compared to filling. Off the form provided by Amazon or Google.
Amazon revealed that so far it has allowed 11 requests this year, and notified affected owners once the emergency is over. Even before this, in 2019 there was controversy that some employees had unrestricted access to security cameras. If you want to enter the security camera market, it might be best to stick with some of the best security cameras from Arlo, Eufy, Wyze and Apple. Quality-of-life features like Nest Aware might not be worth this potential intrusion of privacy.