Ring privacy concerns

Alan Cai

January 26, 2024

Ring has long drawn controversy through its law enforcement cooperation practices. A company that sells electronic home doorbells with embedded cameras, Ring has until recently allowed law enforcement officers to request video footage on its user communication app, Neighbors. Law enforcement has used Neighbors to give community-wide guidance on safe practices or police updates and to request video footage from homeowners.

The doorbell’s camera is intended to help homeowners identify people who ring their doorbells or passersby in general. A two-way audio system allows homeowners to communicate with individuals at the door through an app in their smartphones.

Ring doorbells are situated perfectly for identifying suspects in neighborhood crimes. Since they are generally hidden inconspicuously on front porches, suspects would not know that they are being monitored. They also frequently face the street which means suspects can be tracked while they are using a residential street with Ring-using homeowners. Nevertheless, evidence obtained using illegal means can not be presented in court and lawsuits could challenge and find Ring legally liable for facilitating illegal evidence exchange. Although no major lawsuits have forced this recent Ring move, any defendant charged with using Ring footage can reasonably appeal the legitimacy of the evidence and possibly set the precedent for its disqualification.

A search warrant is technically not required if evidence is given with consent. Since homeowners providing law enforcement give over the footage voluntarily, the action can be permitted. However, it does raise questions over government surveillance and invasion of privacy. As a result of the Patriot Act and various other government monitoring efforts following 9/11, the National Security Agency(NSA) and related government agencies have increased surveillance through the internet and other mediums without warrants during the 21st century. As a result, parts of the act were declared unconstitutional. Perhaps Ring could face similar legal trouble if it continued to permit such evidence exchange. Additionally, since doorbell cameras do not produce the best image quality for distant objects, it is conceivable that evidence provided by the company could mislead law enforcement into misapprehension, an onerous situation for all parties involved.

However, Ring evidence can bring a higher degree of safety to the community. Through faster suspect identification, police can ensure that communities are more safe from crime.

Regardless of the current update, Ring will continue providing evidence to law enforcement if presented with a warrant.

As it grows as a company, Ring will face growing questions with regard to the legality and morality of its decisions. It must do its best to keep neighborhoods safe and balance privacy concerns.