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Balancing Privacy And Safety Concerns As Local Police Departments Partner Up With Smart Doorbell-Maker Ring

A "Ring Stick Up Cam" is pictured at the Amazon Headquarters, following a launch event, on September 20, 2018 in Seattle Washington
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

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Smart doorbells are a handy way to keep an extra eye on your home when you’re not there and to see who’s at the door without having to go anywhere near it.

But some are worried that one company’s efforts to partner with local law enforcement agencies may be infringing on people’s privacy.

Santa Monica-based smart doorbell manufacturer Ring, which Amazon owns, has been working with local police departments across the country to deploy their technology in local communities, sometimes at a price subsidized by the city government and Ring. The tech-focused nonprofit Fight For the Future recently released a map that it says shows the cities and municipalities across the country that have partnered with Ring. The Associated Press reports the City of Arcadia spent $50,000 to subsidize 1,000 cameras for residents through its Ring partnership, which it launched at the end of 2017.

The cameras send alerts to users if someone rings the doorbell or if the device’s heat sensors are triggered, and Ring says the videos recorded are kept for two months and that only the doorbell’s owner can access the video. If police wanted to see it, Ring says, they’d need to either get permission from the camera’s owner or get a warrant. Police say the devices work like a digital surveillance network that can help deter crime and in some cases provide information that could be useful in solving a case. Privacy advocates worry about how these devices might reduce neighborhood privacy and further extend Amazon’s reach into the inner workings of our daily lives.

We reached out to Ring to invite them to participate in our discussion. They were not able to make someone available for us at air time, but they sent us this statement:

"When it comes to important topics like crime and safety, we understand the complexities involved. We’re proud of our partnerships with law enforcement agencies across the country, but have also taken care to design these partnerships in a way that keeps our users in control. 

Every decision we make at Ring centers around privacy, security and user control. While Law enforcement partners can submit video requests for users in a given area when investigating an active case, Ring facilitates these requests and user consent is required in order for any footage or information to be shared. Law enforcement cannot see how many Ring users received the request or who declined to share.

These joint efforts have led to amazing stories driven by community members coming together to have real conversations about what’s happening in their neighborhoods, and if they choose, directly engaging with their local law enforcement as well. And those stories are what keep us motivated to push forward.”


Paul Foley, captain with the Arcadia Police Department

Jacob Snow, technology and civil liberties attorney with the ACLU of Northern California