Doorbell cameras: Privacy vs security

Video doorbell cameras are rising in popularity and whether it's used to track lost pets or catch criminals in the act, homeowners are now more aware of what's happening right outside their door.

Supporters say the cameras make them feel safer, but critics feel like they're under constant surveillance, raising privacy fears.

These doorbells aren't what they used to be, they're smarter now, and homeowners have the ability to keep track of what's happening outside or inside their house right from their smartphone or device.

"Any motion that comes, you will see it. That’s always good especially for the homeowner who is not home," said Anoopa Todd, Vice President for Neighborhood Watch of Genesee County.

Todd is a strong believer in the doorbell surveillance. She's been using Ring security systems for the last six years.

"You can see who is coming and going and also you can see more safety wise for your neighbors," said Todd.

Ring users, like Todd, are able to see just about anything that pops up on the doorbell camera. Once motion is detected, the surveillance automatically starts recording. Homeowners who use Ring are then able to share any videos or other safety alerts to those who live around them through Ring's social platform, known as the Neighbors app.

"We need to as citizens and residents be vigilant of people in our surroundings," added Todd.

Todd told TV5 having the doorbell camera adds an extra sense of security. These doorbell cameras also act as an extra set of eyes for the Grand Blanc Township Police Department. They've been utilizing Ring and the Neighbors app for the last six months and believe it helps them communicate effectively with Grand Blanc residents.

"It allows you to get updates, emergency alerts and so forth... we can put out information to the community very quickly," said Ofc. Jon Strom of the Grand Blanc Township Police Department.

The department is just one of 400 police departments across the United States who have partnered with Ring. The partnership allows departments to have access to the Neighbors portal app.

"This is just one more way to communicate with people and then for them to share information with us," Strom added.

Ofc. Strom said most surveillance they see posted on the Neighbors app records lost pets or suspicious people. However, the partnership between Ring and police departments doesn't sit right with everyone.

"Knowing that there is a potential for a police department to access that potentially without your knowledge is problematic," said Rodd Monts, campaign outreach coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

The ACLU of Michigan also has concerns about the doorbell cameras being considered as a crime-fighting tool. Monts said police access to the Neighbors app should be left up to residents.

"We’re trying to get more people informed about the potential harms of surveillance technology and more active in working with local governments that provides citizen input," Monts added.

Officers are pushing back. They said they don't have direct access to homeowner's doorbell cameras.

"[Ring] put[s] layers of protection for the people in the app, if you share a video with me, the PD, you come as Neighbor 22 or Neighbor 15. So I have no idea who this person is," Ofc. Strom told TV5.

Police departments have to put in requests to homeowners in order to look at any surveillance video captured by doorbell cameras.

"It’s no infringement whatsoever, if you want to share it with us, share it, if you don’t want to share it, then don’t," Officer Strom assured.

So far, the department said the Neighbors app and communicating with residents has been beneficial.

"A lot of our crimes have been solved because of witnesses, people coming forward, or people reporting suspicious situations. We want to encourage that," he said.

About 20 different law enforcement agencies across Michigan have partnered with Ring and the Neighbors app, according to Ring's website.

Copyright 2019 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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