As more homes turn to Amazon-owned Ring for surveillance and home security, the partnerships between Amazon and police departments continue to raise privacy concerns.

The doorbell camera company has partnered with 400 police departments across the country, allowing them potential access to homeowners’ camera footage. Homeowners have the right to decline the request.

Ring officials say that, after the initial rollout, police have had a lot of success in solving crimes that would otherwise take a long time to solve and deterring them. These results have led to additional partnerships.

How it works

Ring’s millions of cameras installed nationwide and connected via the internet can offer valuable evidence for crime-solving. The police can request video footage of a particular date and time as recorded by homeowners’ cameras. There is a “Neighbors Portal” map interface for up to half a square mile area that officers use to designate a time range and local area.

Per their request, Ring sends an automated email to all users within that range. The email includes a message from the police along with the case number that they need the information for.

The high-resolution cameras provide detailed images of neighboring homes across the street and down the block along with one’s front doorstep. Ring users can monitor the footage of their phones, share it with the police if they wish, and even share the footage to Ring’s public social network. Suspicious activities reported may include mysterious noises, stolen packages, questionable visitors, and even missing pets.

However, this deal is fueling massive concerns about surveillance, privacy, and the expanding reach of law enforcement and tech giants.

Civil liberties advocates say that a dystopian future, where we live in a state of constant surveillance, is here. But for law enforcement officers, Ring’s vast camera network offers them the opportunity to make neighborhoods safer from criminals and get robust assistance for their investigations. It is no news that many police departments operate on tight budgets, but this partnership can help them overcome those barriers and solve crimes faster.

What are the concerns?

For privacy advocates and legal experts, Amazon’s close relationship with police and the eyes-everywhere approach could threaten civil liberties. They feel that Ring has taken advantage of the individual need for security and self-surveillance to suit the needs of an expanding police state. Amazon and Ring have now developed a wholly new surveillance network that people are willingly opting in to that has managed to avoid the scrutiny that the police or government agencies face.

More so, by turning residents into informants, the system is allowing for paranoia, xenophobia, and personal vendetta to find a place in a surveillance program. If users report anyone suspicious, that person could be flagged as a potential neighborhood risk even before their lack of innocence is determined. Ring, however, stated that it does not provide user video footage unless they are legally bound to do so or homeowners allow it.

This is not the first time Amazon has faced scrutiny for its partnerships with law enforcement. It went through the same for its facial-recognition software, Rekognition, which is used by police nationwide.

However, Ring’s aggressive policy to secure new police partnerships and its urging homeowners to adopt the system have been causes of concern for many.