A dozen Valley police agencies have access to people’s ‘smart’ doorbell videos

A Ring doorbell. Photo by Dick Thompson | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

A recent report by The Washington Post detailed the extent to which doorbell security company Ring has partnered with local law enforcement across the country, including in Arizona. 

Twelve agencies in Maricopa County have partnered with the company but have stated that they are not using the partnership to have special access or remote access to Ring users’ systems, which record and store video. 

Most of the agencies are fairly new to the program. For example, the Scottsdale Police Department has had access to Ring’s Neighborhood Portal for about three weeks. 

The partnerships let police request the video recorded by homeowners’ cameras within a specific time and area. Law enforcement agencies 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.”

Approximately 400 police agencies across the country have partnered with the company, which is dubbing the system the “new neighborhood watch.” 

The 12 agencies in Maricopa County that are partnered with Ring are the police departments in Buckeye, Chandler, El Mirage, Glendale, Gilbert, Maricopa, Mesa, Paradise Valley, Peoria, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Surprise.. 

Arizona Mirror reached out to several of the agencies to find out how the partnership works and what information they could provide. 

The Phoenix Police Department said it has been working with Ring since December 2018, the longest of the agencies that responded. 

“We will have access to their law enforcement portal, which includes camera locations, and a feed of crime and safety related posts; however, this does not grant live access to home cameras,” Phoenix Police spokesman Sgt. Vince Lewis said. 

Phoenix does not pay a fee to Ring for the service. 

Lewis compared the partnership to the department’s already existing Virtual Block Watch program, where residents can opt-in to show Phoenix Police where their own surveillance cameras are, to aid police in solving crimes. 

Ring is a partner on the Virtual Block Watch program. 

Only one of the agencies contacted by the Mirror provided a written agreement with Ring. 

The Scottsdale Police Department provided a copy of the scope of work statement which states that the agreement will last 12 months. The agreement was signed in June, but Scottsdale Police spokesman Sgt. Ben Hoster said the department didn’t get access to the Neighborhood portal until Aug. 13. 

Part of the agreement included that Ring and Scottsdale had to issue a joint press release about the partnership agreed upon by both parties. 

The agreement also includes a confidentiality clause stating that “the Parties shall not disclose the terms of this program or any information that is designated as confidential.” 

While police in Arizona have said that the system will be used as an extension of the traditional neighborhood watch programs, privacy advocates have voiced concerns over how the system could be used. 

“It’s a business model based in paranoia,” Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital advocacy group Fight for the Future, told The Washington Post. “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 users already consent to the company giving recorded video to law enforcement or third parties when the company deems it necessary, per the terms of service for the “smart” doorbells. Footage deleted by users can also be obtained by Ring in order to comply with its legal obligations. 

CNET reported this week that internal documents show that Ring videos obtained by law enforcement in one area can be shared with other agencies. 

Despite the fears and trepidations, Ring is big business, which is why it was bought by Amazon last year for $800 million.


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