Amazon-owned smart doorbell maker Ring is ending its practice of allowing law enforcement to directly request user videos through its Neighbors app, a move that cuts police access while aiming to rebuild trust.
Years Of Close Police Ties
Ring’s video doorbells have been closely tied to police departments across the country for years. The Neighbors app allowed police and fire officials to request footage directly from users within a certain radius of an incident, no court order required.
This integration prompted privacy concerns and criticism that Ring was enabling increased surveillance of communities without appropriate oversight.
|Ring Video Milestones
|Over 200 police departments partner with Ring
|2,000+ departments partnered
|Estimated 6 million US households with Ring devices
While Ring stated that compliance was voluntary, the ability for police to directly ask residents for potential evidence raised ethical issues. Civil liberty advocates argued the tech normalized widespread monitoring absent due process.
New Policy Removes Direct Access
Now, Ring has removed the Request for Assistance feature altogether in a January 2024 product update. Police can no longer request clips via the Neighbors portal at all.
Law enforcement must formally request camera footage by seeking a court order or subpoena first. Narrow exceptions may be made for cases like preventing an imminent threat to life.
Ring explained the move promotes users’ privacy and control. The policy change limits direct police access amid rising adoption of its internet-connected cameras.
“We believe Neighbors users should have control over if they want to share footage from their devices or not,” said Ring spokesperson Eva Bandola in an email statement.
Police Push Back, Accused of Stonewalling Investigations
Many police departments are voicing frustration over the policy reversal, saying it removes a useful investigative tool and delays timely access to video evidence.
“Valuable investigation time will be lost,” said Bill Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the New York Police Department.
Without direct Neighbors access, officials say subpoenas could obstruct cases:
“We used the Ring partnership to actually solve crimes. Now that delays things,” said Jamie Lynn with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “It can take weeks to get footage through legal demands instead of within days.”
Broader Reckoning Over Police Technology
The change also comes amid a wider rethinking of law enforcement surveillance tools like facial recognition systems. Cities like Boston, Minneapolis, and Oakland banned police use of biometric tracking technology due to bias and performance concerns.
Mariko Hirose, attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, said police previously had unprecedented direct access into private lives:
“People bought Ring thinking it secured their home, not became an automatic neighborhood watch reporting to police…Public attitudes are changing towards unrestricted police surveillance partnerships with private tech.”
And while privacy advocates applaud Ring’s decision, many continue pushing for oversight regulations around home camera data uses.
Looking Ahead – Increased Legal Requests Predicted
Going forward, privacy experts anticipate a rise in legal demands by police for smart camera evidence as installations continue growing. In most states, little clarity exists around how video doorbell data can be employed amid emerging tech.
Recent California Consumer Privacy Act legislation mandates users opt-in to provide personal data. Still, most jurisdictions lack specific laws governing situational private camera usage by third parties like law enforcement.
Ring itself emphasizes user control within its services. But it remains unclear whether further policy adjustments could occur regarding external police requests. Ring’s cooperation with government investigations is likely to remain under scrutiny even as direct portal access disappears.
For now, by removing a controversial access avenue that prompted alarm, Ring aims to give users confidence while departing from past perceptions as excessively aligned with police interests. But reforms around home camera data remain unfinished wider business as the smart camera category only expands.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.