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FBI warns that doorbell cameras — widely seen as police ally — could actually sabotage investigations

The internet-connected cameras have been used to alert suspects when police show up on their premises to conduct searches.
Ernie Field pushes the doorbell on his Ring doorbell camera at his home in Wolcott, Conn.
Ernie Field pushes the doorbell on his Ring doorbell camera at his home in Wolcott, Conn. [ JESSICA HILL | AP ]
Published Sep. 1, 2020

Doorbell security systems like Amazon’s Ring, which have long been considered an ally in the fight against crime, could actually sabotage police investigations and pose a safety risk to law enforcement personnel, the FBI warned in a leaked document.

The internet-connected cameras have been used to alert suspects when police show up on their premises to conduct searches, the agency wrote in a technical analysis bulletin issued in November 2019.

In one incident described in the document, a suspect remotely watched FBI personnel move through his property and alerted his neighbors about their presence there. The 2017 incident is an example of how such cameras can hinder an investigation and present a risk to officers’ “present and future safety,” the agency warned.

Online news website The Intercept recently spotted the bulletin among a trove of documents that were hacked from 251 police websites. The hacked data, known as BlueLeaks, “represents an unprecedented exposure of the internal operations of federal, state, and local law enforcement,” according to The Intercept.

Critics have long cautioned the public about doorbell cameras, noting that many homeowners often share footage with law enforcement agencies. The security systems have aided police in numerous investigations through the years.

But the 2019 bulletin suggests that those devices can have the opposite effect. The FBI warned that the doorbell’s sensors could help suspects by providing the exact location of officers during a standoff and “surreptitiously” record searches.

Another downside, the agency noted, is that some homeowners have posted images of possible crimes on social media before even calling 911.

“This allowed individuals to post and accuse others of crimes publicly before any formal inquiry,” the document states.