The video-doorbell company Ring has partnered with the York Police Department, a first in the state, as part of a nationwide push to encourage Ring users to offer their privately recorded video to police to help to solve crimes.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine urged caution against connecting private companies that collect vast troves of data on American consumers with police departments, raising possible privacy and information security concerns, saying private companies are profiting from creating a climate of fear.

Ring, an upstart that was purchased by Amazon in February 2018 for $1 billion, sells an internet-connected door bell device equipped with a camera that can stream live video to a homeowner’s cellphone, computer or tablet, or record an event and provide it to homeowners for later viewing. It is one competitor in a growing market of smart home security equipment that also includes Google’s version, Nest, a similar system that integrates video streamed over Wi-Fi to enable users to keep tabs on their homes.

As part of their service, Ring provides a free app, Neighbor, which does not require the purchase of a doorbell camera. The app functions like a technology-driven neighborhood watch program in which Ring users can post videos of suspicious people or activity recorded on their devices.

York Police Sgt. Thomas Cryan said he learned about the Ring partnership opportunity at a police conference he attended in Orlando, Fla., in October 2018. The partnership began in early June, and was announced in a Facebook post by police.

Interest among police agencies is growing, Cryan said, he soon will talk to a local police conference in the Seacoast area about York’s experience with Ring. The nationwide effort to promote such partnerships was first reported Wednesday by the Washington Post.


“I know that others are talking about it,” Cryan said. “We support it. I recommend it to my family and friends. This is just another tool in the toolbox to fight crime.”

Under the current agreement, police are allowed to send request for assistance to Ring users in geographic areas, and in turn, Ring users must agree to send video clips to police, Cryan said.

Investigators do not know exactly where the cameras are located, the precise number that exist in town, who owns them or what the devices record. Instead, Ring provides a color-coded map showing if an area has a high or low density of camera coverage.

If a Ring user agrees to send a video to police, the identity of the Ring user is withheld from investigators.

“It still comes in anonymous,” Cryan said.

Officers have no unilateral power to access any live video feeds or recorded clips, police said.


So far York police have sent two public service-type alerts through the Neighbor app. One was about a shoplifting case, and another alert was targeted to beachside neighborhoods warning of a shark sighting.

Cryan said the department has sent one request for video related to a theft investigation, but it was in an area of town with little coverage and no one sent any videos back to police, Cryan said.

“There was no footage in that area,” he said.

But the ACLU of Maine cautioned residents to be wary about the partnership, saying it could lead to abuses or data breaches.

Technology companies are already building opaque databases with consumers’ personal information, so any effort to combine government actors with those troves of data should be looked upon with suspicion, said Rachel Healy, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

“Technology that seems like it is for the greater good has the potential to become a civil liberties nightmare,” Healy wrote in an email statement. “What happens when this info ends up in the wrong hands?”


To combat the possible misuse of technology, Healy said communities should adopt legislative measures that limit governmental use of surveillance technology and empowers residents to decide how that technology may be used.

Some breaches of Ring and other home security systems already have been reported.

This year, an Illinois couple said a hacker breached their Nest camera system that was being used as a baby monitor. The hacker took control of the device, spoke to the infant and then hurled obscenities at it, CBS News reported in January.

Separately, an internet security company in February 2019 showcased how a flaw in the Ring security system – which has since been patched – allowed the firm’s programmers to breach video feeds and insert their own images or eavesdrop on conversations.

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