Google could share Nest camera footage with cops without a warrant

Like Amazon's Ring, Google's Nest leaves open the possibility of sharing in "emergency" circumstances.

Close-up of weatherproof outdoor Nest home surveillance camera from Google Inc installed in a smart ...
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Google is leaving room in its policies to share Nest camera footage with law enforcement in “emergency” situations, even when no warrant or consent has been obtained. This is the same loophole Amazon’s Ring revealed just a few weeks ago.

“If we reasonably believe that we can prevent someone from dying or from suffering serious physical harm,” Google says in its terms of service, “we may provide information to a government agency.” The company goes on to list a number of examples, including school shootings, suicide prevention, and bomb threats.

A Nest spokesperson confirmed to CNET that, yes, Google will share data with law enforcement without a warrant or subpoena. The spokesperson pointed to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act — which says a provider may, “in good faith,” provide information to law enforcement without a subpoena or warrant in an emergency — to bolster Google’s vague terms.

Better than Ring? — Unlike Ring’s revelation, which came after Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) requested information about the company’s law enforcement policies, Google’s own emergency policy was simply buried in its terms of service until CNET surfaced it. We know, because of Sen. Markey, that Amazon had provided law enforcement with non-warranted footage 11 times at the time of the company’s response.

Google has provided no such data, and, as such, it’s impossible to know whether or not this policy has been invoked by law enforcement. The language in Google’s policy is at least a little more clear about what constitutes an “emergency” — Amazon lists no examples and simply says Ring may hand over footage in “cases involving imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to any person.”

Other IP camera companies like Arlo and Wyze have gone on record to say they won’t provide cops with camera footage unless legally obligated to do so via a warrant or subpoena.

Mandatory encryption — Though Google’s language is a bit more precise, its security settings actually lag behind those available for most Ring products. While Google does “fully encrypt” Nest data, it does not give users the option to turn on end-to-end encryption — which is really the only way a user can ensure they are the only one able to see their video streams. Ring refuses to turn en-to-end encryption on by default, but it is at least available.

In an ideal privacy situation, end-to-end encryption would be not only available but mandatory for all electronic communications. Instead, lawmakers are working to dismantle the privacy afforded by current end-to-end encryption methods.

What Google says — A Google spokesperson sent Input the following talking points:

  • “If there is an ongoing emergency where getting Nest data would be critical to addressing the problem, we are, per the TOS, allowed to send that data to authorities. To date, we have never done this, but it's important that we reserve the right to do so.
  • We take emergency disclosure requests very seriously and have dedicated teams and strict policies in place that are designed to ensure that we provide information that can assist first responders in the event of an emergency while ensuring that we only disclose data that is reasonably necessary to avert an ongoing threat.
  • To reiterate, and as we’ve specified in our privacy commitments, we will only share video footage and audio recordings with third-party apps and services that work with our devices if you or a member of your home explicitly gives us permission, and we’ll only ask for this permission in order to provide a helpful experience from an approved partner (such as a home security service provider).”

Updated 7.28.22, 11:30 a.m., to include Google’s statement.