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- A secret agreement between Amazon’s Ring smart home security company and a Florida police department requires officers to advertise Ring products in return for free Ring doorbell cameras, which can be handed out to local residents for free.
- It was previously reported that some police departments would only hand out free Ring cameras to residents if they allowed police to informally request surveillance footage, which usually requires a formal warrant.
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Ring, the smart home security company that Amazon acquired last year, is requiring US police departments across the country to advertise the Ring platform in return for free Ring smart home security cameras, according to a report in Motherboard on Thursday.
Motherboard said it obtained a signed memorandum of understanding as well as emails between Ring and the Lakeland, Florida police department revealing the terms of these secret agreements.
Ring gave the Lakeland police department 15 of its home security cameras for free (it’s not clear which Ring cameras, but Amazon’s website lists the cost of Ring cameras between $99 and $249), as well as access to a special online portal Ring created for law enforcement, according to the documents.
The portal is essentially a map of all the Ring cameras in a neighborhood. Specific home addresses are obscured, but the site allows police to reach out to homeowners with Rings to request access to their footage, an arrangement that Motherboard says allows police to sidestep the usual warrants required for obtaining security footage.
In exchange for these freebies and privileges, the Lakeland Police Department is contractually obligated to “encourage” residents to download the Ring app. For every download, the police department gets a $10 credit that can be used towards the purchase of more Ring cameras.
Lakeland Police Department told Business Insider that it was never required or encouraged the public to buy a Ring device.
CNET’s Alfred Ng has previously reported that police departments around the US had a partnerships with Ring hat involved police offering free Ring cameras to local residents. But the terms of the contracts, and the allegation that police are explicitly required to act as advertisers for Ring under the arrangements, weren’t known.
Many police departments appear to have have partnerships with Ring, potentially with similar contractual terms.
The Tulsa, Oklahoma police department tweeted about its partnership with Ring on Monday, providing a special code and a link for people to download the app.
We're Partnering with Ring and Their Neighbors App
To download the app, text tulsaok to 555888
— Tulsa Police (@TulsaPolice) July 23, 2019
The concern with the partnership detailed in the previous CNET report was that some police departments were requiring recipients of free Ring cameras to give police access to recorded footage, giving police departments unprecedented surveillance capabilities without going through formal law enforcement due process to obtain warrants for surveillance footage, and posing serious concerns over privacy.
Lakeland Police Department told Business Insider that it “cannot access anyone’s device or videos. We can only view what each user chooses to submit to us.”
Ring told Business Insider that the company doesn’t support programs that require recipients to subscribe to a recording plan or share footage as a condition for receiving a donated device. The company also said that “law enforcement can only submit requests to users in a given area when investigating an active case. Ring facilitates these requests and user consent is required in order for any footage or information to be shared with law enforcement.”
With Thursday’s news, the implication that Ring is incentivizing police departments to advertise its services raise new concerns.
Ring replied to Business Insider’s request for comment, saying:
“Ring partners with law enforcement agencies to help make neighborhoods safer. Through these partnerships, we are opening up the lines of communication between community members and local law enforcement and providing Neighbors app users with important crime and safety information directly from the official source.
Agreements with law enforcement agencies are not secret. Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) often go before public entities such as city councils for consideration, where they are made available to the public prior to signing. Law enforcement partnerships are also made public through announcements in the Neighbors app and press releases.
We’ve seen many positive examples of Neighbors users and law enforcement engaging on the Neighbors app and believe open communication is an important step in building safer, stronger communities.”