February 29, 2024

Ring will no longer facilitate police requests for footage from its cameras without a warrant. At least, not public ones.

The Amazon-owned company announced on Wednesday that it is sunsetting Request for Assistance (RFA), a tool found in its Neighbours app. Introduced in 2021, RFA was designed to let police publicly request information such as doorbell camera footage from Ring users. Such requests couldn’t be deleted, meaning there was a public record that the police had asked for footage from a certain area.

RFA wasn’t quite enough to allay concerns about Ring’s close relationship with law enforcement, but it did provide at least some element of transparency and accountability. If Ring is going to hand over your camera footage to the police, at the very least you’d want to know about it. Unfortunately, that transparency is apparently now a thing of the past.

“Public safety agencies like fire and police departments can still use the Neighbors app to share helpful safety tips, updates, and community events,” Ring’s Eric Kuhn wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. “They will no longer be able to use the RFA tool to request and receive video in the app. Public safety agency posts are still public, and will be available for users to view on the Neighbors app feed and on the agency’s profile.”

To be clear, the end of RFA won’t prevent police from continuing to request Ring camera footage without a warrant — requests the company has previously demonstrated it’s happy to comply with. There will just be no publicly visible record of their interest.

In a statement to The Verge, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed that Ring will continue to comply with police requests for footage without a warrant in “emergency” situations, such as where there is a threat of physical harm or death. Such requests “are reviewed by trained professionals who disclose information only when that legal standard is met.”

Basically, it’s Ring’s decision whether your private security camera footage is given to the police, and you may not even know that it’s been handed over. In 2022, Amazon admitted that it had given private Ring security camera footage to police multiple times since RFA had been implemented, despite not having a warrant, nor the knowledge or consent of the cameras’ owners.

Mashable has reached out to Ring for comment.

Ring previously came under fire for its relationship with law enforcement after a 2019 report by Motherboard revealed it had secret deals with dozens of US police departments. In exchange for the police advertising Ring to their local community, the company agreed to provide free products as well as a private portal through which law enforcement could request footage from specific users without a warrant.