History seems to be an endless restart. Since their beginnings, the GAFAM have played with the lines, to offer services that often play from a legal point of view in a gray area. The latest products to date to raise many questions in this area are the connected cameras sold by these firms.
We can cite in particular the Google Nest Doorbell, or the portal cameras / Ring doorbells (Amazon). These devices store up to two months of video in the cloud. Normally, however, the recordings of these devices are intended to remain private – except in the event of a judicial warrant, after referral to a judge by the police.
Are Google and Amazon right to collaborate with the police?
This is true in the United States, as in France – where there are also other safeguards that are sadly little respected, such as the field that the camera can observe in the public space, and the authorizations that are normally required. Yet these new connected objects seem to encourage American police forces to multiply requests for access to these images.
And for their part, Google and Amazon generally say “yes” when the police justify the request by urgency. In addition to Nest products, Google would even let the police access other Google account data such as history, again without requiring any warrants. However, these practices are not unanimous in the industry.
The competition, in particular Apple (HomeKit connected cameras), Arlo (equipment used by Verisure among others), Anker and Wyze all require duly formed judicial authorization to issue the same data to the authorities. This legal vagueness is cause for concern – especially since it is not certain that the authorities of other countries do not also have access to these videos in the same terms.
For the time being, however, to our knowledge, there is no official partnership or rapprochement between the French police forces, and Google and Amazon – as has been the case since 2019 in the United States. Indeed, Amazon has been preparing its collaboration with the American authorities for a long time. More than 400 police departments across the country have since been approached.
But this development poses real legal and social problems in an already very divided country. Caroline Sinders, a specialist in machine learning and the links between technology and harassment, explains among other things in a Guardian article: “What often happens in cases where surveillance increases is that suddenly there are more arrests of ‘suspicious persons,’ which actually means people of color who are not breaking any laws.”