Legal Law

Amazon turns into a authorities witness

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New figures from Amazon’s semi-annual transparency report show that the number of government requests for customer data has increased a whopping 800% in the last six months of 2020.

At the same time, Amazon has built a controversial surveillance network that works with its ring camera systems with US law enforcement agencies.

Critics wonder if this is Big Tech or Big Brother.

Fed up in the clouds
Requests for user data – based on warrants, subpoenas, or court orders – are rising faster than a viral Reddit stock. Amazon responded to 27,664 government requests for information about customers from July through the year-end, up from 3,222 in the first six months of the year.

The German authorities were responsible for 42% of the total inquiries, with Spain and Italy in second place with 18% each and the USA in fourth place with 11%. For Amazon Web Services, 75% of the 523 data requests were made by US authorities.

Devil in the unknown details: Amazon is known to be secret about what it does with customer data. In 2015, it became the last of the great Silicon Valley titans to publish a transparency report. Each subsequent year, the company has reduced the disclosure of items ranging from acceptance notices to account removals.

Public-private partnership
Over 2,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies – twice as many as a year ago – are now working with Amazon’s ring doorbell system, which allows them to request footage of user homes that the devices have captured.

The partnerships were upset by privacy advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who described the initiative as a “massive and undisputed de facto CCTV surveillance network”.

Take away: Amazon is rejecting requests it deems excessive. Last year, the company responded to 57% of police inquiries to Ring, compared to 68% in the previous year.

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