Starting next week, Ring is making a big change to its Neighbors app and its partnership with law enforcement agencies that should help ensure greater transparency with what is being asked.
Beginning the week of June 7, Ring will phase out its existing system for one where any request by a police or fire department will be publicly posted on the Neighbors app. It will then be up to individual Ring owners to decide if they want to share their video.
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Under the existing system, if a law enforcement agency wanted to review footage from Ring owners' cameras — which include video doorbells and home security cameras — they would submit a request to Ring, which would then pass along the request to Ring owners in the vicinity of the incident. If those owners chose to participate, then law enforcement would then be able to view footage from their cameras.
However, this system has come under a lot of scrutiny as the program has grown to encompass more than 2,000 agencies around the U.S. (You can see which agencies have partnered with Ring on this map (opens in new tab).) Ring's map shows the number of requests sent over the past quarter, but a number of privacy groups have criticized this partnership, saying that it promotes a police-like surveillance state. Last summer, the program came under renewed scrutiny following a Los Angeles Police Department request for footage (opens in new tab) related to protests following the murder of George Floyd last summer.
Under the new system, any request made by a government agency will be publicly announced in the Neighbors app as a “Request for Assistance” Post. According to Ring, "each post must include a valid case number and agency contact information, be limited to a 12-hour timeframe, and only encompass an area between 0.025 and .5 miles."
According to Ring's guidelines, once a request for Assistance post is published, it cannot be deleted, "cannot be used to gather information about lawful activities, such as protests," and must contain "information referencing an active investigation, specifically, the type of incident being investigated."
Should a Ring user choose to share footage from their camera(s), they can then click on a link in the post to share their video privately or to contact the agency directly. Ring users can also opt out of seeing these posts, as they have been able to opt out of receiving requests under the previous system.
Pam Dixon, the founder and executive director of the World Privacy Forum, said she was "extremely pleased" by the changes. "This particular group of changes is a public good," she said. "It puts the people who own the Rings back in control, and that’s the way it should be."
The World Privacy Forum was one of several groups contacted by Ring while the company was working through changes to its policies. Dixon said that, along with end-to-end encryption, which Ring implemented earlier this year, the transparency of the new policy was key, as was getting Ring "out of the business of sharing data."
It's a bit of a change from Ring's previous system, and though the new policy is likely to still have its detractors who say that Ring should not be partnering with law enforcement agencies at all, it should offer a better look into what's being requested.