Doorbell-camera firm Ring has partnered with 400 police forces, extending surveillance concerns

"The doorbell-camera company Ring has quietly forged video-sharing partnerships with more than 400 police forces across the United States, granting them potential access to homeowners’ camera footage and a powerful role in what the company calls the nation’s “new neighborhood watch.”

The partnerships let police automatically request the video recorded by homeowners’ cameras within a specific time and area, helping officers see footage from the company’s millions of Internet-connected cameras installed nationwide, the company said. Officers don’t receive ongoing or live-video access, and homeowners can decline the requests, which Ring sends via email, thanking them for “making your neighborhood a safer place.”

“If the police demanded every citizen put a camera at their door and give officers access to it, we might all recoil,” said Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor and author of “The Rise of Big Data Policing.”

By tapping into “a perceived need for more self-surveillance and by playing on consumer fears about crime and security,” he added, Ring has found “a clever workaround for the development of a wholly new surveillance network, without the kind of scrutiny that would happen if it was coming from the police or government.”

“It’s a business model based in paranoia,” said Evan Greer, deputy director for the digital advocacy group Fight for the Future. “They’re doing what Uber did for taxis, but for surveillance cameras, by making them more user-friendly. . . . It’s a privately run surveillance dragnet built outside the democratic process, but they’re marketing it as just another product, just another app.”

Ring’s expansion has also led some to question its future plans. The company last year applied for a facial-recognition patent that could alert when a person designated as “suspicious” was caught on camera. The cameras do not currently use facial-recognition software, and a spokeswoman said the application was designed only to explore future possibilities."

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