Doorbell Surveillance Networks Have Arrived. Should We Be Scared?

Cops can now request access to videos recorded by Ring, bypassing that pesky step of obtaining a search warrant first.


The Amazon-owned security firm Ring wants to let police know what's happening in your neighborhood. Law enforcement agencies that sign up are provided with a web-based map showing which homeowners have installed Ring doorbell cameras. They can request access to recorded videos—bypassing that pesky step of obtaining a search warrant first.

"We just like the fact that Ring wants to work with law enforcement and the citizens and bring us into the same forum to try to keep our community safe," Tony Botti, public information officer for the Fresno County Sheriff's Office in California, told Government Technology. "It lessens the work we have to do; maybe we have to knock on a few less doors to get the video."

When police use Ring's so-called Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal to request archived footage, customers in that area receive an alert: "Sharing your Ring videos is absolutely your choice, and none of your information has been shared with law enforcement. However, if you'd like to take direct action against crime in your community, this is a great opportunity…."

Ring has been exceptionally secretive about its relationship with law enforcement, insisting on contracts that limit what government agencies may disclose. What has become public—thanks to public records requests by journalists and a handful of leaks—suggests that the company has enlisted police as de facto salespeople by providing camera "credits" in exchange for sales efforts. One confidential agreement obtained by Motherboard says that for every resident who downloads Ring's "neighborhood watch" app, local law enforcement receives a $10 credit toward the purchase of free Ring cameras. Over 400 departments reportedly have signed up.

Ring has also tried to shape news coverage, instructing one Florida police department to delay an announcement about the partnership and contractually insisting that public statements about the program be vetted by the company.

Headlines across the country have described this arrangement as creating a massive surveillance network. In cities dotted by many Ring cameras (or competitors such as Nest, Canary, and Arlo), law enforcement can probably reconstruct a pedestrian's movements from the time he enters a neighborhood until he exits.

Not all borderline-creepy technologies are illegal or should be: Lower courts have said that you enjoy no reasonable expectation of privacy on a public street, let alone on your neighbor's doorstep. While the Supreme Court recognized in a 1979 case that "people are not shorn of all Fourth Amendment protection when they step from their homes onto the public sidewalks," here the government is installing no cameras of its own. Federal law is silent on the topic. State laws typically take a permissive approach toward residential video surveillance, though some are stricter if audio is recorded as well.

The next advance in video surveillance will be tracking faces and license plates. Ring cameras today offer up to 2 megapixels resolution, also known as 1080p. That's not great for capturing license plates and faces, especially when combined with a wide-angle lens. In my experience, higher resolution 8-megapixel cameras (also known as 4K) do a far better job. Google's Nest Cam IQ is now available in 4K, though it requires a hardwired Ethernet connection instead of WiFi.

Count on ample market demand for this. Google already advertises that the Nest Cam IQ can, with a paid subscription, "recognize a familiar face." And many of us might, reasonably, wish to know if a vehicle with an unfamiliar license plate parks in our driveway at 3 a.m.

Privacy activists are likely to clamor for laws regulating the sale or use of advanced video surveillance. One advocacy group already asked the Federal Trade Commission, unsuccessfully, for a "moratorium on the commercial deployment of facial recognition techniques."

A wiser—and constitutional, if that matters anymore—approach would be to regulate police use of residential video surveillance. This could include disclosing the contours of surveillance "partnerships," creating administrative safeguards to limit abuses, defining when a search warrant is required before requesting video, and publishing an annual transparency report. Privacy-sensitive homeowners might opt to store video recordings locally, which makes it more difficult for police to access them surreptitiously. This is not merely a theoretical concern: In 2017, a postal inspector obtained a court order instructing Google to hand over data from a Nest camera without the advance knowledge or consent of the camera's owner. The company complied.

NEXT: Brickbat: A Regular Florence Nightingale

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    1. I wonder if *this* guy deems himself one of the UK’s best essay writers. He sounds like a regular Addison.

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  3. Doorbell cameras. Traffic cameras. Security cameras. Facial recognition. License plate readers. Alexa/Siri etc. We are voluntarily realizing 1984.

    Hong Kong is a valuable lesson, but only when there is a broad repressive government program. How do we protect our privacy in less repressive societies that nibble away at our privacy? Are warrants an effective solution? Or merely a sop to placate us?

    1. Warrants are only any good if the people seeking them, issuing them and using them are honest. And we all know how that can go.

  4. I am not voluntarily giving away my privacy, you won’t see any of that crap in my house. Now the government is taking it from me. That is not surprising as our government is failing, with crime as high as it is a lot of people are not only voluntarily surrendering their privacy, but demanding it.

      1. Just saw an article this morning. The latest FBI statistics show violent crime down again. Not quite back to the low of 2014 but still on the 30-year downward trend.

        Certain property crimes are up a bit. It’s not clear from the data whether this is random variation or a change in the reporting standards.

        1. If you look at the regional breakout it’s pretty clear that the property crimes have risen only in a few areas (*cough*san francisco*cough*) that seem to be bringing the average up over what would otherwise be a downward trend consistent with other categories.

      2. How high is crime?

        *Holds out flattened hand at mid-calf level.*

  5. They can request access to recorded videos—bypassing that pesky step of obtaining a search warrant first.
    They can also request that you let them search your house or even confess to a crime.

    1. The problem is that they’re not making the request of you, they’re asking Amazon or Microsoft or Google or whichever branch of Big Brother, Inc. you have stationed in your house. Probably all of them, and Facebook and the Chinese as well. Your phone, your computer, your TV, your doorbell, your smoke detectors, your refrigerator, your bathroom scales and your toilet – they’re all spying on you 24/7. And once they transmit all their data back home, it’s not your information any more and you have no control over who sees it or for what purpose.

      1. Is it a “problem”?
        I don’t have Ring. I don’t have an Echo. I have an ancient phone that can’t run anything. My TV doesn’t have a camera and I don’t have anything voice activated. Life isn’t hard in any way in those regards. If you set up a phone plan go with a pre-paid option because the phones available do most of the shit other ones do, but you can remove the battery. Need the GPS service? Garmin makes one you can turn off completely. You need a good camera? Canon makes amazing SLRs.
        The only reason they’re able to market these items is because you’ve been told if you’re not doing things the easiest way possible you can’t cope in society today. Prove them wrong. You’ll find out that you have more time because you’re less involved in the bullshit that goes along with it like checking Instagram or typing in 60 character wifi passwords.
        In the event of a fire would you rather rely on internet servers or a 9-volt battery? That 9-volt never let me down on a stage in a stompbox. It will do even better hanging from the ceiling because the annoying beep will let you know it’s failing.

        1. Yup, that’s pretty much me too. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.

        2. Shhh. My phone listens to me.

          No shit.

          1. It’s the only thing that listens to you.

            1. Obviously not.


              Examples of bigotry in a Sentence
              “ a deeply ingrained bigotry prevented her from even considering the counterarguments”


              1. Go back to bashing the 1A, stormfag.

                1. You brought up 1a on this thread where it has no relevance simply to elicit a reaction as per the definition of “troll”.


                  “ In Internet slang, a troll is a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive,[1] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses[2] and normalizing tangential discussion,[3] whether for the troll’s amusement or a specific gain.”


  6. A wiser—and constitutional, if that matters anymore—approach would be to regulate police use of residential video surveillance.

    A wiser – and constitutional, although that doesn’t matter any more – approach would be to get rid of the third-party doctrine by applying the Fourth Amendment to agents acting as your representatives on your behalf. The lawyer/client, doctor/patient, priest/penitent relationships shouldn’t be carve-outs, they should be the norm.

    1. It’s heartening to know that Gorsuch at least has expressed sympathy for this exact viewpoint, and it seems like Kagan might be on board as well. Assuming RBG can’t manage to cling to life long enough, and Trump gets another nomination, several of the Federalist Society’s short listers are also big 4A defenders – and uh, one of them, the Michigan Supreme Court justice iirc, has actually written explicitly about how the third party doctrine is clearly not producing the level of protection the Founders would’ve expected citizens to enjoy in the modern age.

  7. A massive surveillance network of your front porch, IF you want to participate.

    Surveillance is here to stay, technology makes it too easy and there are some benefits along with the many risks.

    Our ONLY defence is to get ahead of the wave by surveilling the surveillors.

    We need to insist on legalizing the human right to defend ourselves by recording all our memories, everywhere we are, as proof to expose the corrupt intentions of others. It’s only proof of what we witness.

    Only that will minimize the risks presented by one sided surveillance.

    We won’t have to rely on police releasing their body camera footage when many civilian recordings from every angle already exist.

    Every corrupt person in authority will have to consider the risk of every one of their underlings being recorded.

  8. “Cops can now request access to videos recorded by Ring, bypassing that pesky step of obtaining a search warrant first.”

    Everyone should leave that as an Amazon review.

    1. Note that its “request” access, Ring then emails you to approve the request, and can still deny it and tell them to come back with a warrant

      This is no different than a cop knocking on my door asking if he can take a look around. I can choose to allow it, or tell him to buzz off and come back with a warrant

      1. I think it is closer to a cop knocking on the door of a business owner in a location where a crime occurred, asking to see their CCTV footage from the cameras facing the street. Which, as far as I know, is perfectly constitutional.

        The key point is that Ring cameras face public areas so there is no expectation of privacy on behalf of the suspect. The courts haven’t treated it any differently than a door-to-door search to find the little old lady who was peeking out at the street spying on her neighbors and saw the whole thing.

        I am more concerned with privacy violations due to passive monitoring, such as facial recognition or license plate scans that ping a search without any underlying crime serving as justification.

        1. Particularly I dislike stuff that allows them to search historical data without a warrant. Combined with facial and license plate recognition there’s very little of your life they wouldn’t be able to reconstruct, and they could do so without even requiring the relatively low bar of a warrant.

  9. I thought Ring allowed you to see who is at your front door. How are there recordings that can be shared with law enforcement? If Ring is keeping recordings the question is for how long and why. Can you opt out of their recording?

    1. Ring records who is at your front door (I mean, whats the point of a camera that doesn’t record also? Then it would just be a fancy peephole) so you can see if a package arrived while you aren’t home (or see who stole said package while you aren’t home)

      You have the option of deleting any recordings (although I’m not sure if they are actually gone or just gone from your view) and it doesn’t store recording if you don’t have the subscription (although again I’m not sure if it doesn’t record, or if it just doesn’t give you access to the recordings)

      1. “You have the option of deleting any recordings (although I’m not sure if they are actually gone or just gone from your view)…”

        It’s been my experience that there is stuff you can truly delete but only if it’s something that it turns out, you really need later. Then you can never get it back. The rest of the stuff that’s out there lives forever.

  10. I see you can now share your ring with neighbors. No thanks they don’t need to know what happens around my house and neither do the police.

    1. You can share individual clips you find suspicious in a digital “neighborhood watch” type of thing, its not like your neighbors can just log in to your camera whenever they want

    2. You can install ring on your nightstand and masturbate for your neighbors. No one said it has to be on the front door. If they looked, well, their problem that they saw you inserting yourself into their Jack-O-Lantern.

  11. door p0rn is fucked up.

  12. I wonder how many of these doorbells will end up being destroyed by cops.

    1. tougher to explain the broken ones across the street

  13. Remember kids, “The Cloud” means “someone else’s computer”.

    1. Like a bank.

  14. I know a surefire way to keep coppers from ever examining recorded data from my Big Bruthah porch camera.


    Simply tell Whamazon, the Goog, and whoever else are selling them NOPE.
    Not in MY front yard. Or back. ESPECIALLY the back.

    1. Hmmm. Hopefully your neighbors feel the same way.

  15. I am planning on getting one without the data storage which is extra. Can’t see who is at the front door the way it is configured.

    Couple weeks ago we had an incident where someone on foot with a flashlight and clipboard was ringing the doorbell and banging on the door at 8pm in a snowstorm something about selling “clean energy”. Right and those solicitations are illegal here in the first place.

    It was fine we chased him off verbally without opening the door. Cops sent a car out to look around and you don’t want to break into this house.

    Damn dogs didn’t even bark. Humph they bark at the pizza delivery. They have one job. Bark when you are supposed to.

    I think a camera is a good idea.

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