Two men have been slammed with charges in the wake of allegedly hacking into Ring cameras, placing falsified calls to emergency services, and then openly mocking and belittling the police officer while live-streaming the events across various social media platforms.
After being acquired by Amazon back in 2018 for close to $1 billion, Ring offers products that make use of outdoor doorbell cameras for both home security and convenience reasons. James McCarty of North Carolina and Kya Nelson of Wisconsin were able to get the passwords for a number of Yahoo email accounts prior to using the information to find out if the owners had accounts with Ring and calling police officers to their physical addresses, as explained in a release from officials at the Justice Department. The phone calls were done to specifically force an armed response from police forces.
In one of these cases, Nelson allegedly accessed one Ring account which had belonged to a resident of West Covina, California, calling local police while posing as a young child and making a claim that the parents were drinking and firing guns in the house. When police forces made it to the house, Nelson then accessed the doorbell camera and utilized it to openly taunt and hurl threats at police officers, as explained in a statement from the DOJ.
Similar incidents took place all over the United States back near the end of 2020, prompting the FBI to put out a warning across the country about the possibility of “swatting” hoaxes via the use of 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 stated in a public service announcement at that time. “Users should update their passwords on a regular basis.”
Ring became the target of much controversy this year in the wake of a letter from Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) revealing that the management had given law enforcement officials with videos from user devices in an emergency situation a total of 11 times since the first 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,” stated Brian Huseman, the Amazon Vice President of Public Policy, to the legislator. “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.”
As the sponsor of the legislation that seeks to ban state and federal entities from getting access to the biometric data of the American public, Markey stated that the revelation justifies the passage of his bill. Over 117 million Americans presently have their biometric data stored in a facial recognition network, as explained in 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,” concluded Markey in a press conference. “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.”