Surveillance at your front door

Surveillance at your front door

Security cameras don’t come to mind when you think of a residential neighborhood, but the smart doorbell has changed all of that. Ring powered by Amazon essentially creates a private surveillance network accessible by the police.

More than 50 local police departments across the US have partnered with Ring over the last two years.  The Amazon-owned product allows them to access security footage in areas that typically don’t have cameras…. suburban porches. Law enforcement is given a dashboard, where they can geofence areas and request footage filmed at specific times. 

Privacy advocates argue this partnership gives law enforcement an unprecedented amount of surveillance. “What we have here is a perfect marriage between law enforcement and one of the world’s biggest companies creating conditions for a society that few people would want to be a part of,” said Mohammad Tajsar, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “Essentially, we’re creating a culture where everybody is the nosy neighbor looking out the window with their binoculars,” said Dave Maass, a senior investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It is creating this giant pool of data that allows the government to analyze our every move, whether or not a crime is being committed.”

Police ask permission for footage, yet a giveaway in Houston ensured law enforcement would get any videos needed. The Houston police wrote in the rules that winners would agree to give police access to the cameras anytime requested. “This model is the most disturbing because they’re basically commandeering people’s homes as surveillance outposts for law enforcement,” Tajsar said.

Ring has had its own privacy concerns since inception.  Workers in their Ukraine facility Ring Labs watched videos on the public Neighbor’s app without customers knowing.  The non encrypted videos can be accessed and watched by just entering an email address which should be troubling for those who have the cameras in their homes.  Ring’s overview of its Neighbors system provides zero mention of image or facial recognition, and no warning that those who use the feature are opting in to have their homes watched by individuals in a Ukrainian R&D lab.

Ben Franklin was famously quoted saying “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” In the age of new technology and government surveillance this quote rings especially true.