App companies routinely hand over private data to cops

Illinois readers who are concerned about privacy issues should be aware that many tech and app companies readily share customer information with law enforcement agencies without a warrant, according to a report by Government Technology magazine. These companies include Ring, Lyft, Uber, Netflix, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Venmo.

According to the report, law enforcement officers routinely ask people for footage from their Ring video doorbell systems, which send videos of suspicious activity to a consumer's smartphone. If a consumer refuses, authorities can get the video directly from Ring, which is owned by Amazon. In fact, Amazon is so interested in police having access to Ring footage that it is urging law enforcement agencies to join community boards across the country so that they can persuade consumers to hand over incriminating videos.

Many consumers assume that they own the videos and personal information associated with their devices and apps, but that isn't necessarily the case. Currently, only California, Utah and Washington require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before obtaining information collected in apps, including video footage, names, contact information and IP addresses. In other states, it's up to the company to decide if it will require a warrant before handing over private data. However, many popular companies, including Facebook, Instagram, Lyft and Uber, will hand over private data with just a subpoena, which doesn't require proof of probable cause. Meanwhile, it's Snapchat's policy to hand over private info whenever law enforcement makes a reasonable request for it.

Individuals facing criminal charges have the right to mount a defense against the allegations. A criminal defense attorney may work to protect a defendant's rights and challenge any prosecution evidence that was obtained without a warrant. If the challenge is successful, the charges might be reduced or completely dismissed.

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