Ring Tells Law Enforcement, "Lights, Camera, No Action!"

Published: 2024-01-26 00:00:00

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If you have a Ring doorbell camera, you should know there is a policy change on sharing of video footage with law enforcement. Under the current arrangement, police departments and other public safety agencies can request video footage directly from users through Ring's Neighbors app using the "Request for Assistance" tool. In a post on Wednesday, Ring said it will discontinue the feature this week.

Ring's relationship with police departments has drawn criticism from privacy advocates for years. Some critics have noted that the "proliferation of these relationships - and users' ability to report what they see as suspicious behavior - can change neighborhoods into a place of constant surveillance and lead to more instances of racial profiling."

Critics also claim that Ring, a subsidiary of Amazon, appears to be marketing its cameras by stirring up fear of crime at a time when it is actually decreasing. Amazon's promotional videos show people lurking around homes, and the company recently posted a job opening for a managing news editor to "deliver breaking crime news alerts to our neighbors."

In 2021 in an effort to increase transparency, Ring changed its policy to make police requests publicly visible through its Neighbors app. Before that, law enforcement agencies were able to send Ring owners a private email requesting the video footage.

Merrionette Park (Illinois) police Commander Joe Garrett is disappointed with Ring's policy change. "[Ring] is a great tool, because it helps us start investigating crimes and issues right away," he commented. But seeing another side of the issue, he also noted, "Ring is a private company. It's probably worried about lawsuits that come through them through civil suits and having to pay out money. It's a fight for privacy, and I get that."

In mid-2022, Ring disclosed that it handed over 11 videos to police without notifying the users, due to "exigent or emergency" circumstances. Dr. Matthew Guariglia, senior policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that he remains skeptical about the ability of law enforcement agencies and Ring to determine what is or what is not an emergency.

"Public safety agencies like fire and police departments can still use the Neighbors app to share helpful safety tips, updates, and community events," Eric Kuhn, head of the Neighbors app, said. It just will not allow departments to request video directly through the same app. Dr. Guariglia cautioned, "Law enforcement agencies will still be able to access videos through a search warrant or subpoena. Ring users should also know that when police knock on their door, they have the right to - and should - request that police get a warrant before handing over footage."

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