Police now will have to make a public request for Ring doorbell videos, Amazon says

The Ring Video Doorbell. (Ring Photo)

In an effort to lessen concerns about privacy and civil liberties, Amazon will require police departments seeking Ring doorbell video data to make public requests for the information in the open user portal and not anymore as private inquiries to individuals who possess the footage.

The policy change, first published in Ring Blog, is meant to create transparency and accountability, the post said.

“Beginning next week, public safety agencies will only be able to request information or video from their communities through a new, publicly viewable post category on Neighbors called Request for Assistance,” according to the blog.

“All Request for Assistance posts will be publicly viewable in the Neighbors feed, and logged on the agency’s public profile.”

An estimated 2,000 police departments across the country contract with Ring and the Neighbors app to get access to footage gathered by millions of the popular camera doorbells.  Typically, doorbell owners receive a private message through the Ring network that the investigators would like a specific video feed.

But civil-liberties groups have criticized Amazon and Ring for the doorbells, saying the technology greatly expanded police surveillance powers without sufficient public awareness. Amazon’s shareholders at last month’s meeting barely defeated a proposal to audit the company’s record on civil rights and diversity. The proposal specifically cited Ring and the Neighbors app.

The company also clarified the voluntary nature of any participation with law enforcement.

“Request for Assistance posts are opt-in, nothing is shared with any agency unless you actively go through the steps of choosing to do so,” according to the post. “You can also remove Request for Assistance posts from your feed. If you previously opted out of Video Requests, you will not be notified when public safety agencies post a Request for Assistance.”

Amazon purchased Ring three years ago. Since then, it has become one of the most popular home surveillance products in the country.

Last November, a group of U.S. Senators sent an open letter to Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos asking for additional clarity on how Ring uses customer data. Among the specific concerns was Amazon’s potential use of Ring in conjunction with its Rekognition facial recognition software.

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