The North Bergen Police Department has officially announced its partnership with Ring, an Amazon subsidiary that manufactures home security cameras, and connects them through its neighborhood watch smartphone app.
The partnership between the department and the company entails a promotion, in which discounted Ring products are available to residents. The company will provide North Bergen residents with $100 discount codes on more than a dozen Ring products until Sept. 19.
Ring Video Doorbells and security devices connect to a user’s smartphone or tablet via the Ring app. The users are notified if a motion sensor is activated or if someone rings the doorbell. Users can also view the camera’s live video feed at any time.
Users can post video footage on the Neighbors App, which acts as a private, digital neighborhood watch. Videos posted there can be publicly viewed by those who live nearby on Neighbors. The customer-funded network of cameras can also be used by police to detect and apprehend criminals.
“North Bergen has been ranked as the safest city in Hudson County and one of the safest in the country by independent studies, but that doesn’t mean we are going to stop working to make sure every single resident can feel safe in our community,” Mayor Nicholas Sacco said. “This exciting partnership with Ring is one of the many ways NBPD is using new technology to make North Bergen safer, and I’m glad that the Nicholas J. Sacco Foundation [a nonprofit run by Sacco] can assist in funding the program. I would like to thank Public Safety Commissioner Allen Pascual, Chief Robert Dowd, and his team for always keeping our police department on the cutting edge of public safety.”
NBPD Chief Robert Dowd is on board with the Ring partnership, and said that other chiefs he’s spoken to will likely pursue Ring partnerships for their own departments.
“We’re the first department in Hudson County to have that partnership,” Dowd said. “I spoke with some of my fellow colleagues and chiefs, and they’re pursuing Ring doorbells, also. Ring is a fantastic partner. So far, we’ve given 60 Ring Doorbells away at a discount. The discount is funded by Ring, the North Bergen PBA, and the Nicholas J. Sacco Foundation.”
Ring security cameras allow users personal surveillance of their properties at any time from a smartphone.
Potential break-ins, thefts, or other crimes that occur on the property can be recorded and used in police investigations. The company reports that two neighborhoods in Newark saw a more than 50 percent decrease in home break-ins over a two-month period after Ring devices were installed in 11 percent of homes.
Police can issue alerts to Neighbors users and request information directly through the app. Ring also uses computer-assisted dispatch services to provide crime alerts to Neighbors users.
Residents can apply with their shipping addresses on applications that can be found on the township’s website. Ring will provide discount codes to eligible residents via email once daily, Monday-Friday, at 3 p.m. Those promotional codes can be redeemed via checkout at Ring.com.
Questions about privacy and information security swirl around the use of Ring devices.
Any device that records or monitors people in their homes and transmits that data to cloud storage has been under heavy scrutiny by those concerned about privacy.
It’s become commonplace for scores of internet-connected devices, including Smart TVs, Apple’s Siri, and FitBit, which monitor sound and video, to transmit user data to manufacturers.
Reports confirm that all the footage captured on every device is being stored in an Amazon-run data cloud.
There’s no law barring the company from allowing employees to access live video feeds, but the company states that security measures are in place to prevent it from happening. Some reports beg to differ.
According to a 2016 report from The Intercept, sources claim Ring provided a Ukraine-based research and development team and a number of executives with “unfettered access” to the entire video stock, in order to improve Amazon’s artificial intelligence.
Ring objected to The Intercept’s characterization, stating that they view and annotate certain Ring recordings that are publicly shared or given through written consent.
“Ring employees do not have access to livestreams from Ring products,” the company said. “We hold our team members to a high ethical standard, and anyone in violation of our policies faces discipline, including potential legal and criminal penalties.”
What kind of access does law enforcement have?
Chief Dowd said that the department has been active on social media, and that broadening communication between police and residents via Ring and Neighbors is worth pursuing.
“We’re always trying to magnify our community policing, and that’s all about getting our message out to people,” he said.
Law enforcement will not be able to stream footage of people’s front porches with their Ring devices the same way that they would be able to view a CCTV camera in a public place.
In most instances, officers can request Ring footage from residents for an investigation. Without a warrant, residents could provide footage to police departments at their own discretion.
If law enforcement personnel deliver a subpoena or search warrant to the company, Ring would have to provide a user’s footage. It’s unclear if Ring notifies users that their information has been give to police in response to a court order.
The law enforcement guidelines say that “generally, Ring will not release user information to law enforcement except in response to valid legal process directed and addressed to Ring. Ring will object to legal process it determines is overbroad, inappropriate, and/or that does not provide Ring with sufficient information to locate responsive records.”
The guidelines further state, “Ring distinguishes between content and non-content information. We may produce non-content information in response to a valid subpoena, court order, or search warrant. We do not produce content information in response to subpoenas or court orders. Content information will only be disclosed in response to a valid search warrant or with the verified consent of the account owner.”
Non-content information includes information that can identify a user, such as name, address, email, billing information, date of account creation, and other types of account information.
Content information is the actual camera footage.
Ring reserves the right to allow law enforcement personnel immediate access to footage in the rare instance that police could prevent imminent harm.
If law enforcement officers request information with “EMERGENCY” in the subject line of an email, Ring reserves the right to hand over that information. Law enforcement personnel would have to explain “the nature of the emergency, the information sought, and how the disclosure of information” will prevent imminent harm.