Ring, which Amazon acquired in 2018 for $1 billion, offers products that use outdoor doorbell cameras for convenience and home security purposes. Kya Nelson of Wisconsin and James McCarty of North Carolina obtained the passwords for several Yahoo email accounts before using the information to determine whether the users had Ring accounts and calling police to their physical addresses, according to a statement from the Justice Department. The phone calls were designed to elicit an armed police response.
In one instance, Nelson allegedly accessed a Ring account belonging to a resident of West Covina, California, calling local police while posing as a minor child and claiming that the parents were drinking and shooting guns inside the house. When police arrived, Nelson accessed the doorbell camera and used the device to verbally taunt and threaten officers, according to the DOJ statement.
Similar incidents occurred throughout the United States in late 2020, prompting the FBI to issue a nationwide warning about the potential for “swatting” hoaxes using Ring devices. “Because offenders are using stolen email passwords to access smart devices, users should practice good cyber hygiene by ensuring they have strong, complex passwords or passphrases for their online accounts, and should not duplicate the use of passwords between different online accounts,” the agency said in a public service announcement at the time. “Users should update their passwords on a regular basis.”
Ring garnered controversy earlier this year after a letter from the company to Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) revealed that management had provided law enforcement with videos from user devices in emergency situations 11 times since the beginning of the year.
Ring “reserves the right to respond immediately to urgent law enforcement requests for information in cases involving imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to any person,” Amazon Vice President of Public Policy Brian Huseman told the lawmaker. “Based on the information provided in the emergency request form and the circumstances described by the officer, Ring makes a good-faith determination whether the request meets the well-known standard, grounded in federal law, that there is imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requiring disclosure of information without delay.”
Markey, the sponsor of legislation that would bar state and federal entities from accessing Americans’ biometric data, said that the revelation justifies the passage of his bill. Over 117 million Americans presently have their data in a facial recognition network, according to research from Georgetown Law School.
“As my ongoing investigation into Amazon illustrates, it has become increasingly difficult for the public to move, assemble, and converse in public without being tracked and recorded,” Markey said in a press release. “We cannot accept this as inevitable in our country. Increasing law enforcement reliance on private surveillance creates a crisis of accountability, and I am particularly concerned that biometric surveillance could become central to the growing web of surveillance systems that Amazon and other powerful tech companies are responsible for.”