Amazon's Ring reveals 405 cities where police tap into its cameras – CNET

Ring is partnered with 405 police departments and rising, according to an official map it released Wednesday.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Ring has released an official map detailing every police department that has partnered with the video-doorbell company over the last two years, showing how widely and rapidly Ring has been expanding its relationship with law enforcement. The map lets you see if your local police department is one of hundreds working with Amazon-owned Ring.

The Active Law Enforcement Map, released Wednesday, shows every police partnership with Ring in the US, along with details on when the departments joined. Ring released the map after extensive reporting from CNET, Motherboard and Gizmodo on its close ties to local police departments. 

At the time of this article's initial publication, the map showed 405 police departments partnered with Ring, with the number possibly set to grow. When the Washington Post reported on the map four hours prior to its unveiling, the official count was 401. This is the first time Ring has disclosed how many police partnerships it has. It began courting law enforcement agencies last March

Rough estimates had previously appeared, with privacy advocates manually searching for Ring police partnerships over the last few months. Groups like Fight For the Future and privacy researcher Shreyas Gandlur published their own maps, using open data available online. Those searches had discovered up to 250 police departments working with Ring, significantly fewer than the number disclosed Wednesday. 

Ring said the official map makes it easy for people to see if their local police department has teamed up with Ring.

"We will keep the map updated so users can search either by ZIP code, address or visually by zooming into a region or city," Ring CEO Jamie Siminoff said in a statement. 

Ring is a video doorbell company purchased by Amazon in 2018 for $839 million, and allows people to view and record footage from its devices. It launched the Neighbors app in May 2018, calling it a "digital neighborhood watch" where residents can upload clips on the social network, which can include videos of potential thieves or wild animals running across the camera. 

The company started partnering with local police departments last year, offering them access to a "Law Enforcement Portal" that would allow officers to post alerts and request residents for footage through Neighbors. In emails with police, Ring told officers that details about the surveillance tools offered should be kept hidden from the public. 

Ring's wide network of police partnerships raised concerns with privacy advocates, as these video doorbells gave police an impromptu surveillance network in residential neighborhoods. The partnerships also benefit Ring, as police involved in these partnerships have been promoting Ring products and encouraging residents to purchase the video doorbells. 

In some towns, city officials have used taxpayer money to provide Ring discounts for residents, going up to $18,750 in Hammond, Indiana in April. 

The map shows a cluster of police partnerships in states like Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Texas. The stark contrast in agencies found by researchers to the official number was not a surprise to Gandlur. 

"New agencies have been joining the program at a steady pace, so I was initially very surprised at the low number that I could find," he said. 

The map shows a rapid rise in how many police departments partner with Ring over the course of the law enforcement program. The data includes when police first joined, and in June of 2018, there were only six partnerships there. In August this year, 40 police departments joined Ring. 

"Once you start seeing how quickly this has been ramping up, that is really alarming," the Electronic Frontier Foundation's senior investigative researcher Dave Maass said. "It is not our imagination that this has exploded recently."

Advocates saw it as a positive step that Ring was disclosing its full number of partnerships, but remain concerned with the sharp rise in police partnerships. 

"What this map shows is deeply worrying. Amazon's privately owned surveillance dragnet is expanding incredibly quickly, with zero public discussion, oversight, or accountability," Fight for the Future's deputy director Evan Greer said. "Local elected officials should act immediately to review existing partnerships and prevent law enforcement agencies from entering into future ones without community discussion and oversight."

You can view the map here: 

Originally published at 10:01 a.m. PT.
Updated at 10:18 a.m. PT: To add quotes and details on Ring's relationship with police. 

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