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Cops Are Running Ring Camera Footage Through Their Own Facial Recognition Software Because Who's Going To Stop Them

Cops Are Running Ring Camera Footage Through Their Own Facial Recognition Software Because Who's Going To Stop Them

(Mis)Uses of Technology


Ring may be holding off on adding facial recognition tech to its already-problematic security cameras, but that's not stopping any of its not-exactly-end-users from doing it for themselves.

Ring is swallowing up the doorbell camera market with aggressive marketing that includes the free use of taxpayer-funded services. It calls over 600 law enforcement agencies "partners." In exchange for agency autonomy and free cameras, police departments all over the nation are pushing cameras on citizens and asking them to upload anything interesting to Ring's "I saw someone brown in my neighborhood" app, Neighbors.

The company that has someone in charge of its facial recognition division Ring claims it's not using to implement facial recognition tech is handing out cameras like laced candy. Law enforcement agencies are snatching the cameras up. And they're snatching the footage up, using subpoenas to work around recalcitrant homeowners. Once they have the footage, they can keep it forever and share it with whoever they want.

They can also run the footage through whatever hardware or software they have laying around, as Caroline Haskins reports for BuzzFeed.

Amazon does not offer the ability to recognize faces in footage on its Ring doorbell cameras. But just one month after police in Chandler, Arizona, received 25 surveillance cameras for free from the company, the department's then–assistant chief discussed using its own facial recognition technology on Ring footage at a meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, according to his slideshow obtained in a public records request.

In an April presentation titled “Leveraging Consumer Surveillance Systems,” Jason Zdilla discussed various consumer surveillance devices and platforms. Examples cited in the presentation included Ring cameras and the Neighbors app.

It's the perfect storm of unaccountability. Footage can be obtained from Ring with a subpoena. Ring hands it over with zero strings attached. Cop shop runs it through the Zoom Enhancer and any databases it has or has access to. Bingo: facial recognition in cameras supplied by a company that says it's not all that into facial recognition at the moment.

Now, you may be wondering why this is a big deal. Why does any of this matter when other surveillance systems with cloud storage are likely similarly responsive to subpoenas and place no restrictions on footage they hand over to law enforcement?

Well, two things: first, Ring claims all footage belongs to camera owners, but treats camera owners as if they're not a stakeholder when it comes to sharing their recordings with the government.

Second -- and far more importantly -- Ring aggressively courts police departments as "partners," turning consumer products into unofficial extensions of existing government camera networks. Ring hands out free cameras to cops and hands out even more freebies if cops convince homeowners to download the Neighbors app and share as much footage as possible. Ring also takes control of all PR efforts and official statements involving Ring doorbells that cops have given to citizens. And Ring coaches cops how to obtain footage without having to trouble the courts with a warrant.

This is unlike any other company in the home security business. Ring's assimilation of hundreds of law enforcement agencies blurs the line between public and private in the name of commerce. Taxpayers are contributing to their own co-opting into a surveillance mesh network propelled by one of the largest companies in the world. This isn't acceptable. But the longer Ring's expansion remains unchecked, the sooner its behavior will become normalized. And once it's normalized, it's over.

Filed Under: cameras, doorbells, facial recognition, police, ringCompanies: amazon, ring

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