NoRing (an Amazon company), which is widely known for its doorbell security cameras, also owns the Neighbors app where users can publicly post photos and videos captured by their Ring cameras and alert those around them to suspicious activity, lost animals, and anything happening in the neighborhood. The app also allows community members and local law enforcement agencies to communicate and post about crime and neighborhood safety issues. However, Ring recently made a significant change to the app that will make it more difficult for law enforcement to request and obtain camera footage from app users.
Phasing Out Law Enforcement’s Use of the App’s Safety Tool
For added safety, Ring partnered with thousands of law enforcement agencies nationwide to be involved with neighborhood activity through the app. Using the Request for Assistance (“RFA”) tool, which was available only to law enforcement agencies, officers could request footage from camera owners related to reports of crimes, suspicious activity, neighborhood issues, or ongoing investigations. But, over the past several years, Ring has been changing the way law enforcement can utilize this tool. Initially, officers could request footage through private messaging with camera owners, who then had the option to share their footage with the officers. Then, in 2021, Ring started requiring officers to publicly post any requests for footage in the app’s main feed as a push to increase transparency.
Most recently, on January 24, 2024, Ring announced that it will be discontinuing the RFA tool. As a result, officers will no longer be able to request and receive camera footage in the app, and law enforcement agencies will be limited to sharing safety tips, updates, and community events. This update is the most significant restriction Ring has made to law enforcement’s utilization of the app and effectively eliminates a key safety feature. Although Ring did not specify a reason for the change, it appears to be in response to criticism over privacy concerns and over policing, as critics of the RFA tool claimed that it can make neighborhoods a place of constant surveillance and lead to more instances of racial profiling.
More Hurdles for Police to Obtain Ring Camera Footage
Ring’s decision to discontinue the RFA tool adds another layer to law enforcement’s ability to timely and efficiently receive valuable information from users. Camera footage that could once be obtained by an online request will now require officers to obtain a search warrant or physically locate the camera owner and make an in-person request for the footage, thereby forcing law enforcement agencies to needlessly expend valuable time and resources. In addition, the camera owners will have to download and share their footage through alternative means (e.g. email, text, or third-party evidence management), as Ring no longer allows direct sharing through the app. Only in emergency or exigent circumstances may law enforcement be able to obtain footage directly from Ring; however, this is at Ring’s discretion. Ultimately, where a suspected crime involves Ring camera footage, officers will now have to jump through additional hoops and rely on the camera owners to quickly respond and comply with in-person requests and search warrants for footage.
not pictured: Lily McKay