Mississippi City Trying To Turn Residents' Doorbell Cameras Into Law Enforcement Surveillance Network

from the Jackson-city-council-just-saying-the-quiet-part-loud dept

The Ring doorbell/camera has become a fixture of American life, thanks in part to Ring's partnership with law enforcement agencies. In exchange for steering people towards Ring's snitch app, the company has been giving deeply discounted doorbell cameras to police, who then hand them out to homeowners with the implied assumption homeowners will return the favor by handing footage over to cops any time they ask.

There are millions of cameras out there and Ring-enabled portals for law enforcement officers to request footage. If warrants seem to be too much trouble, Ring lets police know they can always approach the company with a subpoena to access recordings stored in Ring's cloud.

Some enterprising city legislators are narrowing the gap between cops and homeowners' cameras. A trial program is underway in Mississippi that would give police direct access to cameras, as Edward Ongweso Jr. reports for Vice. (h/t FourthAmendment.com]

On Tuesday, Jackson, Mississippi's city council signed off on a 45-day pilot program that would let police access Ring surveillance cameras in real time.

In partnership with technology companies PILEUM and Fūsus, the pilot program will run through the police department’s surveillance hub, the Real Time Crime Center, from which Jackson’s police department can stream Ring surveillance camera footage.

The goal, of course, is to fight crime. But the methods are concerning, to say the least. The expansion of law enforcement's surveillance network in Jackson co-opts cameras owned by private citizens. The police feel this would be a boon for their "Real Time Crime Center," allowing them to seamlessly access any footage instantly near scenes of reported crimes. According to the mayor, this is a net win for everyone, but it provides the most benefit to the local government, which won't have to spend money to purchase more CCTV cameras.

None of this is mandatory. Businesses and private citizens have to sign a waiver to grant the police real-time access to their cameras. But this move towards more pervasive surveillance comes at a strange time for the city, which recently took steps to limit local law enforcement's access to surveillance tech.

This may come as a surprise to those who remember that just a few months ago, Jackson was the first city in the South to ban police from using facial recognition technology.

That might explain why this surveillance hub isn't much of a hub at this point. According to Vice's report, there are only five private participants in this program. As for Ring, it's distancing itself from this co-opting of its cameras, stating that this isn't a Ring program and the company has had no participation in this program. And while that may be true in this case, the company hasn't been shy about pushing cameras on citizens via law enforcement and encouraging law enforcement to lean on recipients for camera footage.

This may not be Ring's doing, but that's always been the implicit promise of its hundreds of partnerships with law enforcement agencies: an expanded surveillance network that costs cops almost nothing. It hasn't always worked out the way Ring suggests it will, but this trial program makes it clear others will step up to create a network of their own if Ring can't or won't help out.

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Filed Under: doorbells, jackson, law enforcement, mississippi, police, real-time, ring, surveillance
Companies: amazon, fusus, pileum


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Nov 2020 @ 9:50am

    Are they asking for camera access or cloud data access?

    I assume camera access would entail you giving them access to your lan, which a bad idea. Some might firewall the thing but average customers do not have that knowledge.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 11 Nov 2020 @ 10:19am

      Re:

      "Are they asking for camera access or cloud data access?"

      Good point. That would define whether they're asking for access to your property or the device provider's property. That said, I'd guess the latter.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Nov 2020 @ 11:43am

        Re: Re:

        My thoughts also.

        I imagine many Ring users would gladly allow access to their lan and that is a bit concerning because then the local law enforcement might think it should be mandatory.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Nov 2020 @ 9:52am

    surveillance bells...
    surveillance bells...
    it's surveillance time in most cities.
    ring-a-ling...
    the joy they bring...
    soon <b>you'll</b> be on camera too!

    Merry Christmas,
    Your Fearful OverLords

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 11 Nov 2020 @ 10:35am

    The police will love this...until there is footage of police wrongdoing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 11 Nov 2020 @ 11:17am

    The real goal

    The goal, of course, is to fight crime.

    That may be what they say. I think a more accurate description of the goal is to collect as much information as possible about as many people as possible, on the theory that all of this information might some day come in handy to help create the misleading impression that someone was involved in some criminal activity with which they actually had no connection at all. Just as a skilled prosecutor can take virtually anything anyone says and twist it to make the person appear guilty of some crime, so they can also take video and present it in a context which accomplishes the same end. The more video they have, the more raw material they have to work with.

    Here is an interesting article on this idea in terms of "taking the 5th."

    An Internet search for "why you shouldn't talk to the police" will result in untold number of results, but few present the option outlined in the above linked article. The reasons we shouldn't talk to the police are the same reasons we shouldn't let the police (or other government agencies, or anyone else, for that matter) take video of everything we do and everywhere we go.

    The surveillance state has gotten seriously out of hand. We need to do everything we can to rein it in and to not let it continue to grow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Code Monkey (profile), 11 Nov 2020 @ 11:23am

    Not to mention...

    Homeowner must sign a waiver. I'm pretty sure, as TechDirt has pointed out in previous Ring posts, that the police department will keep a careful list of homeowners who "politely decline" to sign a waiver.

    AOC can add that to her list of people we should go after...... :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Nov 2020 @ 4:17pm

    One thing might put a damper on it...

    Seems Ring now has a recall out for possible fires.

    https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2020/11/ring-doorbells-installed-with-the-wrong-screws-may-ca tch-fire/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Nov 2020 @ 4:41pm

    It's just another reason why I'll never have a RING doorbell. I have my home POE cameras recording 24/7 onto my NVR. I sure as hell will never give the police access to them. Even though I'm on an inside corner and so have a good wide view of quite a bit in not the best area.

    My Doorbell is a cheap, basic wireless Doorbell I got when I first got my house about 6-8 years ago from Home Depot. I think I've changed the batteries on both ends once in all that time. It still works. I think I paid around $10 for it at the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BentFranklin (profile), 12 Nov 2020 @ 6:51am

    Anyone who installs a Ring is a dong-dong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2020 @ 6:50pm

    Then watch the sales of WiFI jammers, for those who want to evade surveillance.

    Just jam the WiFi, so nothing gets recorded or sent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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