More than 400 police departments are participating in a surveillance program with Ring, an Amazon-owned smart doorbell platform, according to a new Washington Post report.
As a consumer product, the Ring smart doorbell is a straightforward enough proposition: It’s designed to record video footage of whoever is at a user’s door. The user can view the camera’s live feed from a mobile app, and can also share videos of suspicious individuals or activities with other Ring users through a companion mobile platform called Neighbors.
The notable twist with Ring is in its official partnerships with law enforcement agencies. Motherboard reported earlier this year on Ring’s Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal interactive map that allows law enforcement agents to send out blanket requests for camera footage within a specific geolocation and timeframe; now, the Washington Post has laid out the breadth of this program, noting that over 400 police agencies have partnered with Ring, and that some of these partnership networks cover huge areas, with over 50 partner agencies in Texas and over 60 in Florida, to name two state examples.
Ring users are free to deny police requests for camera footage, but Ring’s terms of service note that the company will share recorded video with law enforcement and government authorities in cases where it’s deemed necessary to comply with such requests.
The police partnership program has created a vast surveillance apparatus in itself, but there is also the possibility that this could be amplified through the use of facial recognition technology. Ring says it does not currently use such technology, but competitors such as Tuya Smart and Google’s Nest Hello have implemented face-scanning capabilities in their own smart doorbell systems. And Amazon, which acquired Ring last year, had previously filed a patent application for a smart doorbell system equipped with facial recognition, and continues to demonstrate a keen interest in providing facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies through its controversial Rekognition platform.
Police, meanwhile, are increasingly applying facial recognition to surveillance footage for their own investigations. And if a growing number of those investigations involve footage from the Ring network, it may simply be a matter of time before the latter is turned into a sprawling biometric surveillance program, with or without Ring’s own active use of facial recognition.