Ring has come under fire in recent months for the way it partners with law enforcement and helps them obtain camera footage from customers without a warrant. Ring frames this as an initiative to keep neighborhoods safe, but privacy advocates worry about the development of a corporate-controlled surveillance state. The scale of Ring’s police partnership has only now become clear. It’s not a handful of police departments or even a few dozen — Ring works with more than 400 departments around the US.
You can buy and use Ring cameras anyplace without interacting with law enforcement, but Ring is working hard to get people under the jurisdiction of partnered police departments to use its “Neighbors” app. That’s what connects your cameras to other nearby Ring cameras, allowing you to share video with neighbors.
Ring’s contracts with police call for the direct promotion of Ring devices and services with the aim of increasing downloads of the Neighbors app. Police departments working with Ring get access to the Neighbors online community portal where they too can request footage. When investigating a crime, police can ask residents in Neighbors to share their video — Ring will even help police craft effective messages to get more footage. Ring (which is owned by Amazon) even provides police with credits toward free Ring cameras they can provide to residents.
It’s not hard to see why police would like this. Officers can set up a Neighbors request and get access to video much more quickly than if they had to go through the legal system. On the flip side, they are getting access to a great deal of video that has little or nothing to do with investigating a crime.
Ring stresses that police can’t see live feeds from cameras, and they don’t technically know who is and is not providing video footage. Although, it’s not hard to figure out which houses with Ring doorbells aren’t supplying video as requested. Ring seems conscious of how uncomfortable this could make people, so it’s trying to get ahead of the critics by making its full list of law enforcement partners public. The map above shows all 405 departments that work with Ring. The company promises to update the map regularly, too.
The map probably won’t do much to calm those who are already concerned — it really drives home the incredible scale of the program. Almost all the departments listed joined the program in just the last few months. Still, the map is a step in the right direction. It will allow at least some public accountability going forward.