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


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.

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Companies: amazon, ring

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

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Anonymous Coward says:

Don’t ever buy RING. Bad enough with the forever paying of monthly services for however long you have their Doorbell. Take a look at the EUFY Doorbell. Better than ring in pretty much everything. Higher resolution, Faster to inform you, Cheaper, and it has local storage. No monthly fee’s unless you want to for cloud storage, but not really needed. The only thing it lacks is no battery, so it would have to be wired up.

Best of all, neither Amazon or Google owns them. At least so far. They also lack Apple’s Homekit support at this time.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Anonymous Cowards calling Anonymous Cowards childish names

All Anonymous Cowards calling other Anonymous Cowards names are retards.

Your right to free expression is for the purpose of allowing you to speak and be heard without having to identify yourself. Insulting another anonymously … when the first speaker is anonymous… well, guess who the "retard" is.

Hint: in 2019 it’s not considered polite to even use that word… so you’re not only abusing your privilege of Techdirt allowing you to speak without giving your name, you’re being a total idiot about it.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Anonymous Cowards calling Anonymous Cowards childish names

so you’re not only abusing your privilege of Techdirt allowing you to speak without giving your name, you’re being a total idiot about it.

Well then quick call Techdirt’s head office and tell them to cancel the AC posting function.

Good god what are they thinking providing a service to the public that doesn’t censor and ban those deemed undesirable by society’s worst!? Oh the humanity!!! /sarcasm

Free speech is only an argument against the government. If society’s worst deem you undesirable, well, have fun yelling at that brick wall they will place in front of you and everyone else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Anonymous Cowards calling Anonymous Cowards childish

I never said anything about government censorship. What part of "Free speech is only an argument against the government." Implies that I did?

"Free speech is only an argument against the government." I.e. Free speech is only a valid (legal) argument against the government. Against the general public there is no such law. The general public is free to deny the right to speak to anyone, and therefore no-one has the right to speak.

Bullshit you say? Hardly. If speaking your mind means that a twitter mob can take away your job or ability to eat, that’s hardly bullshit. Previously, only governments had such power. Now, any vocal idiot on the internet who can drum up some supporters can effectively end your life as you know it. Unlike the government however, there is no redress. No place to file a complaint or grievance. All there is, is a brick wall of apathy constructed by said vocal idiot patting themselves on the back in the fleeting of high of (false) righteousness.

I call those idiots society’s worst because that’s what they are. They (wrongly) feel as though they have done a service to society, that they have removed a true threat. In reality however, all they have done is abused free speech to viciously silence a political / ideological opponent. They have "won" not through principle or fact-based arguments but by pure hatred and scorn. They are the people who’s speech is toxic, because it’s through them that all speech is threatened.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Anonymous Cowards calling Anonymous Cowards chil

Thanks for spewing and I get it. Anybody that doesn’t agree with your right to spew is toxic. You’re making a great case for not sure what. Maybe you might think about whether free speech exists outside of the government. The first amendment is a United States thing. The rest of the world has decreed free speech to be a right. Maybe you could spew on how that’s wrong and nobody’s right and if it doesn’t involve the United States government stopping your free speech it’s all ok.

Anonymous Coward says:

someone please explain to me how the USA can still even try to say that it is a ‘Democratic Country’, when it is so much closer to being a Police State, where ordinary people are now assumed ‘guilty unless able to pay the right person and become innocent’, have virtually no rights and the Constitution is all but thrown out the window, in order for DAs in every state to get wins that they want, even when the accused is completely innocent and provided those same accused weren’t killed by the police and so couldn’t be arrested and able to try to prove their innocence in the first place!!

DannyB (profile) says:

Freedom Of Association

Law enforcement, via facial recognition, can now know everyone who lives at, or visits, any physical address.

Think about that for a second.

You think it is scary that Facebook has "the social graph" of who is connected to who is connected to who. Cops now have the physical social graph. Who goes to who’s house. And how often. Average time of day visited.

With a bit more AI, police could recognize if people bring certain types of recognizable items into their own homes. Things that maybe they should not have. Like video cameras that can be used to commit criminal public photography. Or outright criminal items such as skateboards. OMG!

When police need to know where someone with a criminal record lives, just run their mugshot through the AI to see what physical locations they’ve visited recently.

Anonymous Coward says:

More New Normal

"…once it’s normalized, it’s over."

That’s "normalized" like other shit the police are doing. Like employing massive overkill to the murder of unarmed black people. Gee, that is scary, since it could affect white people like me.

Time to quit voluntarily involving the cops in our lives. And maybe, Amazon too.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

"Cops are not your friends..." -- until you need them?

Time to quit voluntarily involving the cops in our lives.

When I was in elementary school, twice a year a local cop came and talked about the job they did. We were handed out little trinkets, and we thought that guy’s job was really cool. "Cops are your friends" teachers and parents told me.

Years later, as a twenty-something I related this story. The person I was at the bar with asked "When a friend walks in here… what do you do… wave, right? But a cop walks in and you make sure your stuff is all good." ("Your paperwork is in order" to take it to Godwin.) Cops are not our friends…

…until one day when you or your loved one is attacked or your car is stolen or your house is burglarized… and then 911 and waiting for the cops to show up is the longest 5-10 minutes.

So back to the quoted line:

Time to quit voluntarily involving the cops in our lives.

What does one do then, when one is the subject of a crime?


pathlesstraveled (profile) says:

Re: "Cops are not your friends..." -- until you need them?

Yes – involve them when you need them and stay out of their way when you don’t. I think that would be their choice as well. When they are in the costume they’re not looking for friends.

But this is about the inadvertent involvement of police. Perhaps friends bring a friend to your home, the video is subpoenaed / leaked / hacked. Facial recognition from someone like Clearview AI identifies the friends friend as a suspect, now you are too through the association.

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