Police tap Ring video doorbell live streams — what you need to know

Ring Video Doorbell (2nd generation)
(Image credit: Future)

If you live in Jackson, Mississippi, your Ring Video Doorbell could stream its video feed directly to the city police — with your permission, of course.

Last week, the Jackson City Council voted to begin a 45-day pilot program in which five city-owned surveillance cameras and five privately owned video doorbells would stream live video to local cops. If the program goes well, it may be expanded.

"Residents and businesses will be able to sign a waiver, if they want their camera to be accessed from the Real Time Crime Center," Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told WLBT-TV, the local NBC affiliate. 

“If someone says, 'I want my Ring door camera to be used," we’ll be able to use it," Lumumba added. "It would save [the city] from having to buy a camera for every place across the city."

Ring is not involved in this program

The back end of the operation is being handled by two private companies not affiliated with Ring. It wasn't immediately clear whether other brands of video doorbells or home security cameras could be used in the program.

"This is not a Ring program and Ring is not working with any of the companies or the city in connection with this program," a Ring spokesperson told Tom's Guide.

Ring has arrangements with hundreds of police departments across the United States that let cops access residents' previously recorded Ring footage clips, with the permission of Ring Video Doorbell owners who use and contribute to the company's Neighbors neighborhood-watch app. 

But this is the first instance in which police would have direct access to raw live feeds from video doorbells. Ring itself doesn't provide that kind of access to police.

Lumumba said Ring camera footage would be accessed only if a crime had been reported nearby.

"We'll be able to get a location, draw a circle around it and pull up every camera within a certain radius to see if someone runs out of a building," the mayor told WLBT-TV.

'Our worst fears have been confirmed'

One digital-rights group is up in arms about the Jackson pilot program. 

"This is not a drill. Red alert," says a blog post from yesterday (Nov. 3) on the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Our worst fears have been confirmed."

"The footage from your front door includes you coming and going from your house, your neighbors taking out the trash, and the dog walkers and delivery people who do their jobs in your street," the post adds. 

"In Jackson, this footage can now be live streamed directly onto a dozen monitors [or 10, per news reports] scrutinized by police around the clock."

Ring has been criticized by digital-rights groups for allegedly facilitating police surveillance. The counter-argument might be that streets are public places, but plenty of Ring outdoor cameras are pointed at residential back yards and Ring also makes indoor cameras for homes.

Those concerns weren't mentioned by Lumumba, a progressive Democrat whose father was a leader of the separatist Republic of New Afrika and whom The Nation has called "the most radical mayor in America." 

Jackson is experiencing a wave of violent crime, with 110 murders reported so far in 2020. In a city of 160,000 people, that's a murder rate of 1 for every 1,500 residents.

Paul Wagenseil

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at FoxNews.com, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.