Starting the week of June 7, police will no longer be able to directly request video footage from users of Ring via email, the security device-maker announced Thursday. Instead, a new type of post on the Neighbors app will allow law enforcement agencies to make “Requests for Assistance,” with some details of an investigation (including the case number, lead investigator and location of the incident). App users will then be able to publicly comment or privately share footage from their Ring video devices.
Ring, which is owned by Amazon, has faced over a year of scrutiny for its work with police forces — scrutiny that intensified in 2020, amid a national reckoning over police abuse. The partnerships not only lacked evidence of reducing crime, but also led to troubling conflicts of interest with law enforcement and enabled serious police overreach. In one example from February, the Electronic Frontier Foundation uncovered documents showing that the LAPD had submitted multiple video requests to Ring, explicitly in relation to Black Lives Matter protests the summer before.
In the past, police could request video footage from Ring users through something called the Neighbors Public Security Service tool. NPSS guidelines dictated that requests must include a case number and specific suspected crime. Officers could request up to 12 hours of footage from devices within half a mile of the incident. A team of monitors who had undergone a six-week training period would review requests to make sure they adhered to these guidelines, then send it to the appropriate customers, if there were any in the area.
Ring’s new system largely does away with the old procedures. Instead, police and other public safety agencies will be able to post Requests for Assistance on the Neighbors app timeline, where community members can publicly comment, as on any other post. In addition, a button that reads “Tap here to help” will allow users to share footage from their video devices — along with their names, emails and home addresses (to share information anonymously, users will have to contact police outside the app).
Users who live outside the affected area will not be able to share footage through the Request for Assistance interface, and users inside it won’t be able to share footage from outside the prescribed timeframe.
“We believe transparency and accountability are crucial to safer, better communities,” Ring’s latest blog post says about its new approach to partnering with police. “This way, anyone interested in knowing more about how their police agency is using Request for Assistance posts can simply visit the agency’s profile and see the post history.”
In addition, users can disable requests for assistance from appearing on their timelines.
“Ring has steadily been becoming one of the largest surveillance apparatuses in the nation,” EFF policy analyst Matthew Guariglia said in response to Ring’s announcement. “So to have this reform where police have less aided access to that footage is I think a pretty big victory for activists … [But] the work is not over because the police partnerships still exist.”
Chad Marlow, senior advocacy and policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed.
“I think the decision to stop sending unsolicited emails to members of the public … is a good step,” said Marlow. “[But] Ring should not be working with police departments … [To really make a difference] they need to remove themselves as a middleman in the relationship between and exchange of surveillance data between police and the public.”
To date, Ring has partnered with 1,771 police departments across the country — or about 10% of departments in the US (though these departments vary widely in size, so the share of Ring-partnered police may not be the same). Ring’s new procedure applies only to these agencies, along with other public safety agencies it has partnered with, such as fire departments.