Ring, the Amazon-owned company, has announced that it will no longer allow police departments to request doorbell camera footage from users, discontinuing its "Request for Assistance" tool. The feature, criticized by privacy advocates, allowed law enforcement agencies to request and receive video footage captured by Ring doorbell cameras through the Neighbors app. Ring did not provide a specific reason for this change, which takes effect this week.
Eric Kuhn, the head of Neighbors, stated in the announcement that law enforcement agencies can still make public posts in the Neighbors app and share safety tips, updates, and community events. This decision marks the latest move by Ring to address concerns raised by privacy watchdogs regarding its collaboration with police departments nationwide.
Privacy advocates have criticized the relationships between Ring and law enforcement, expressing concerns about increased surveillance and potential racial profiling. In 2021, Ring modified its policy to make police requests publicly visible through the Neighbors app, aiming to enhance transparency. Previously, law enforcement agencies could privately email Ring owners near an active investigation area to request video footage.
Matthew Guariglia, a senior policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, commented on Ring's decision, stating, "Now, Ring hopefully will altogether be out of the business of platforming casual and warrantless police requests for footage to its users."
Despite this change, law enforcement agencies can still access videos using a search warrant, and Ring retains the right to share footage without user consent in specific circumstances. In mid-2022, Ring disclosed that it had provided 11 videos to police without notifying users that year, citing "exigent or emergency" circumstances as a category that allows sharing videos without permission. However, privacy advocates, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, remain skeptical about the determination of what constitutes an emergency.
Ring faced scrutiny last summer, agreeing to pay $5.8 million to settle with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations of allowing employees and contractors to access user videos. The FTC claimed that Ring had inadequate security practices, enabling hackers to control consumer accounts and cameras. Ring disputes these claims.