If you have an Amazon Ring smart doorbell, there’s something you should know. A growing number of fire and police departments are interested in your doorbell—or to be frank, in its camera footage—especially if they feel it can help them in their investigations. In fact, there are now 2,014 departments in the program from every U.S. state except Montana and Wyoming.
According to a recent report in the Financial Times, the number of departments in Amazon’s Ring program has more than doubled last year, when the company added 1,189 departments. The program allows law enforcement officials to contact Ring users in a certain area and ask them to provide footage from their cameras that might be relevant to local investigations.
The Times reported that in 2020, the departments collectively requested videos related to more than 22,335 incidents.
Police don’t need a warrant to request the videos, and owners can decline to provide their Ring’s footage. Nonetheless, the scenario changes when subpoenas, court orders, and search warrants are involved, per the Times, because Amazon can be forced to comply with these legal requests and provide footage and “identifying data” even if the owner of the doorbell has denied access.
Gizmodo reached out to Ring to ask for confirmation on the number of police and fire departments in the Ring program as well as comment on the report. We did not receive specific answers to our questions. A Ring spokesperson pointed Gizmodo to Ring’s Active Agency Map, which the company updates quarterly with video request numbers “so that Ring device owners, Neighbors users and the broader public have greater insight into how public safety agencies use Neighbors to engage with their communities.”
In regard to law enforcement user information requests, a Ring spokesperson pointed Gizmodo to a blog on the subject the company published earlier this month.
“Like many other companies, Ring receives and responds to legally binding law enforcement requests for user information that are not overly broad or otherwise inappropriate. At Ring, we are committed to being transparent about our privacy and security practices,” the Ring spokesperson said.
In the blog post, Ring detailed the law enforcement information requests it processed in 2020, which included subpoenas, court orders, search warrants, non-U.S. requests, and national security requests. Of the 2,149 requests made, Ring provided a “full response,” meaning it provided all the information requested, to 919 requests, 830 of which were search warrants. Search warrants were also the most common request received, amounting to 1,610 requests in 2020.
Ring also provided a “partial response,” or supplied only some of the information requested, to 171 requests. It provided “no response,” which means it provided none of the information requested, in 810 cases.
Per the report, one of the departments that most used the Ring program was the Milwaukee, Wisconsin police department. It made 431 requests in the second half of 2020, which was more than any other department in the country. Police officials interviewed by the outlet cited the high number of homicides in the city—Milwaukee broke its yearly homicide record last November with at least 184 murders—and the hundreds of shootings.
Milwaukee police are “canvassing” videos to investigate a lot of those types of incidents, officials said.
While Ring has maintained that its program gives law enforcement more resources to solve crimes, critics accuse it of building a “for-profit private surveillance network.” Meanwhile, legal experts and privacy advocates worry that the network and the program could threaten civil liberties and turn Ring users into police informants. It could also make innocent people undergo unnecessary surveillance.