Ring is a home security company owned by Amazon that produces video doorbells and security cameras. Ring devices allow users to monitor their doorsteps and receive alerts when motion is detected. In recent years, Ring has formed partnerships with police departments to provide law enforcement access to user videos through an online portal. This has raised concerns among privacy advocates about police potentially obtaining videos without user consent. The focus of this article will be on how Ring’s video deletion and recovery features work, and whether deleted videos could still be accessed by law enforcement through Ring’s police partnerships. The scope covers Ring’s relationships with law enforcement, user control options, and the privacy implications of police access to user videos.
How Ring Works
Ring Video Doorbells have a built-in camera that allows you to see a live video feed of what’s happening at your front door at any given moment (About Amazon). The doorbell camera is motion-activated, so when someone approaches your door, the built-in motion sensors will detect movement and start recording video. You’ll get an alert on your phone, allowing you to see, hear and speak to visitors at your door in real-time from anywhere.
The Ring app on your mobile device allows you to view the live feed from the doorbell camera at any time. The camera has night vision capability so you can see visitors clearly even in low-light conditions. Video recordings are stored securely in the cloud, allowing you to review and share footage from the Ring app after a motion event has occurred.
Some Ring models have advanced features like pre-roll, which saves the few seconds of video before motion is detected, so you can see what led up to an event. Ring Protect cloud storage subscription plans let you save, review and share video recordings for 30 or 60 days.
Ring, owned by Amazon, has established partnerships with over 2,000 police departments across the United States through its Neighbors Public Safety Service program (source). This allows police to directly request video footage from Ring users through law enforcement portals if they believe it may help with an active investigation.
The partnerships provide police with access to the “Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal”, which allows officers to post requests asking Ring users to voluntarily share video footage from a specified time and area related to an investigation. Users can choose whether or not to share their footage in response to the request (source).
While Ring states that user consent is required for any video sharing with police, privacy advocates have raised concerns about the massive expansion of police access to private home surveillance footage through these partnerships (source).
Ring users have the ability to delete videos from the Ring app and Ring’s cloud storage. When a video is deleted through the Ring app, it is removed from both the user’s device and Ring’s servers. Videos deleted on one device linked to an account will also be deleted across all devices connected to that account.
On Ring’s backend, deleting a video flags it to be permanently removed from their servers. However, that removal process is not instant. Ring says videos may exist in their systems for up to 30 days after deletion before being fully purged. So while a video is inaccessible to the user after deletion, fragments of it may still temporarily exist in Ring’s cloud infrastructure during that window.
When a Ring video is deleted by a user, the video is permanently erased from Ring’s servers and backups. This means police cannot recover deleted Ring videos through legal mechanisms like warrants or subpoenas. As CISDEM explains, “Though the police have the legal power to request Ring for users’ video footage, they cannot ask Ring to recover deleted videos from its servers, as there are no such videos at all after deletion.”
If a user has enabled video backups to an external hard drive or cloud storage, then that backup could potentially be obtained by police with a warrant. However, if no backup exists, then not even law enforcement can recover a deleted Ring video.
Police do have legal authority to request and obtain undeleted Ring videos relevant to an investigation. But as Recoverit explains, “Unfortunately, even police can’t recover videos that Ring permanently removed from its servers because no backups exist.” Once deleted by the user, the videos are gone for good.
Ring gives users control over whether or not to share videos with law enforcement. When police make a request for footage through Ring’s Neighbors Public Safety Service (NPSS), users receive a notification and can choose to share videos relevant to an active investigation or opt-out of the request entirely.
Participation in the NPSS program is voluntary. Users can disable law enforcement requests in their Control Center settings at any time if they don’t wish to receive requests. According to Ring’s support site, “If you choose to disable this setting, your Ring devices will no longer be accessible to local law enforcement.”
While the default setting enables law enforcement requests, Ring emphasizes that users have the ultimate say in what footage is shared. As long as users do not voluntarily provide video access, law enforcement cannot view footage from Ring cameras without obtaining a warrant first.
There have been several criticisms over Ring’s partnerships with police departments, which provide access to user videos. According to the Mozilla Foundation, over 2,000 police departments have partnered with Ring, allowing them to request footage directly from users through a law enforcement portal . While Ring states that users have the choice whether to share videos or not, privacy advocates argue this still breaches user privacy by making it easy for police to obtain private footage without a warrant . There are also concerns that Ring’s map of active cameras could encourage racial profiling and disproportionately subject certain neighborhoods to greater surveillance.
In addition, Ring has faced criticism over compromising user privacy in other ways. According to the FTC, Ring failed to implement reasonable security protections, leading to incidents of hackers accessing customer video feeds . Ring also collects and stores large amounts of user data, including video recordings, facial imagery, locations, and personal information. While Ring states it uses this only for product functionality and services, privacy advocates argue users have little control over how their data is used.
Best Practices for Video Privacy
To help maintain control over your Ring videos, here are some best practices
- Enable two-factor authentication on your Ring account for added security (from https://foundation.mozilla.org/en/privacynotincluded/ring-video-doorbell/)
- Frequently review and delete videos you no longer need (from https://ring.com/support/articles/nrk7v/Safeguard-Your-Personal-Data-Privacy-and-Security)
- Opt out of Neighbors app video requests to limit sharing
- Turn off motion alerts when not needed
- Physically block the camera when you want complete privacy
Taking proactive measures to manage your Ring videos can help you maintain control over your personal data and privacy. Ring provides settings to customize when and how videos are captured, stored, and shared.
Ring has not publicly announced specifics regarding its future product roadmap or plans. However, based on Ring’s history of expanding its services, we can expect continued enhancements to its platform and new offerings beyond video doorbells and home security cameras.
For example, Ring introduced its Alarm Security Kit in 2018 and more recently the Car Cam and Car Alarm in 2021. As technology progresses, Ring is likely to capitalize on advancements like higher resolution video and improved AI/computer vision to develop next generation devices.
In terms of privacy, Ring has faced scrutiny over its police partnerships and handling of user data. In response, Ring says it is “committed to protecting user privacy” and gives users control over sharing videos. However, Ring has not announced specific plans for new privacy features. Potential future enhancements could include stronger encryption, improved data access controls, or options to automatically delete older user videos.
Ultimately, Ring’s future roadmap remains speculative. But users can likely expect Ring to continue expanding its ecosystem of connected home security devices along with incremental improvements to privacy and user control.
In summary, Ring videos uploaded to the cloud can potentially be recovered by law enforcement through legal demands, even if a user deletes them. However, there are steps users can take to better control their data:
- Avoid sharing videos with police proactively through Neighbors by Request.
- Delete videos from Ring’s servers as soon as possible after capturing them.
- Adjust privacy settings to limit video access.
- Consider an alternative home security system not owned by Amazon.
The partnerships between Ring and law enforcement continue to raise privacy concerns. While the recovered video functionality may help police investigate crimes, it also expands the data footprint of these private home surveillance systems. Users should carefully weigh the pros and cons of installing Ring or similar always-on video doorbells that store data in the cloud.
Going forward, oversight and legal protections may be needed around these systems to balance public safety and personal privacy. In the meantime, proactive Ring users can take steps to better control their data and home security footage.