Ring Doorbell cameras are US cops’ favourite new surveillance tool

A startling new report has shed light on police efforts across the United States to create surveillance networks using the camera-toting Ring doorbells attached to millions of Americans’ homes.

CNET reports more than 50 police departments are offering residents in some towns free or discounted Ring hardware, which is owned by Amazon. In exchange, some of those signing-up for freebies are being asked to hand over footage to the cops upon request.

That goes against Ring’s vow that owners of their doorbells have the ability to choose whether footage is handset over to the authorities. In a statement, the company said it’ll put a stop to the police programs putting the squeeze on subscribers to the Neighbors app.

“Ring customers are in control of their videos, when they decide to share them and whether or not they want to purchase a recording plan. Ring has donated devices to Neighbor’s Law Enforcement partners for them to provide to members of their communities,” Ring said in a statement.

“Ring does not support programs that require recipients to subscribe to a recording plan or that footage from Ring devices be shared as a condition for receiving a donated device. We are actively working with partners to ensure this is reflected in their programs.”

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The initiatives, taking place in places like Bloomfield, New Jersey and Houston, Texas, often target residential networks where there is an absence of security cameras. CNET claims some of the operations are in major cities, while others are in towns with as little as 30,000 residents.

“Our township is now entirely covered by cameras,” said Captain Vincent Kerney, detective bureau commander of the Bloomfield Police Department. “Every area of town we have, there are some Ring cameras.”

According to the report, many of the schemes are funded by local taxpayers as well as donations from Ring, but Amazon still reaps the rewards from monthly Ring Protect subscription plans.

Naturally this brings privacy concerns, especially with Amazon’s increasing forays into facial recognition. Last month, Amazon shareholders seeking to halt the sale of its facial recognition technology to police forces was voted down by others (via BBC).

“What we have here is a perfect marriage between law enforcement and one of the world’s biggest companies creating conditions for a society that few people would want to be a part of,” Mohammad Tajsar, staff attorney at the ACLU told CNET.

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