Subsidized Ring doorbell cameras could give police public surveillance network

Police departments all around the U.S. are offering people free or discounted Ring doorbells, in some cases funded by taxpayers, CNET reports, and in some cases in return for access to the footage they collect, which could allow them to operate a vast network of cameras with biometric facial recognition.

Ring told CNET devices donated through its Neighbor’s law enforcement partners are not intended for programs requiring subscription to a recording plan or shared access. More than 50 local police departments have partnered with the Amazon-owned smart doorbell company over the past two years, including the Tampa-area Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.

The partnerships offer police more opportunities to gather footage showing evidence of crimes, while Ring charges up to $3 a month in subscription fees. Several states subsidize the purchase of the smart doorbells, and in several cities, the company provides a free camera for every 20 people who sign up for the Neighbors app. Privacy advocates are concerned about the proliferation of surveillance cameras, however.

“Essentially, we’re creating a culture where everybody is the nosy neighbor looking out the window with their binoculars,” Senior Investigative Researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation Dave Maass told CNET. “It is creating this giant pool of data that allows the government to analyze our every move, whether or not a crime is being committed.”

Maas also says the partnerships enable police to avoid the approval processes they would normally go through to add surveillance capacities.

A patent filing to add facial recognition to Ring cameras was published late last year, though no plans to add the capability have been announced, after a public backlash.

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