There’s something about cameras that seems to divide our nation, while at the same time pointing out dizzying differences in terms of how we evaluate the technology based on who is using it. We already know that privacy advocates (for lack of a better term) hate facial recognition software when it’s used by law enforcement of any kind. However, most of them don’t seem to have any problems with Facebook and other social media apps “tagging” them and their friends at the latest party. Speed cameras are also seen as being evil, even if they do occasionally catch violent felons fleeing the scene of a crime.
But now another sort of camera is coming under attack. It’s the newly ubiquitous doorbell camera that lets you know when someone is at your door even when you’re not home. Video taken by these cameras can be shared among neighbors and even the local police to catch porch pirates, burglars and other ne’er-do-wells, varlets and cullions. In some cases, as with the Amazon offering called “Ring,” police departments are partnering with the company to offer discounted camera deals. This, of course, means that they have to be done away with. (Associated Press)
[A]s more police agencies join with the company known as Ring, the partnerships are raising privacy concerns. Critics complain that the systems turn neighborhoods into places of constant surveillance and create suspicion that falls heavier on minorities. Police say the cameras can serve as a digital neighborhood watch.
Critics also say Ring, a subsidiary of Amazon, appears to be marketing its cameras by stirring up fear of crime at a time when it’s decreasing. Amazon’s promotional videos show people lurking around homes, and the company recently posted a job opening for a managing news editor to “deliver breaking crime news alerts to our neighbors.”
“Amazon is profiting off of fear,” said Chris Gilliard, an English professor at Michigan’s Macomb Community College and a prominent critic of Ring and other technology that he says can reinforce race barriers. Part of the strategy seems to be selling the cameras “where the fear of crime is more real than the actual existence of crime.”
The arguments being made against Ring (and related products) for teaming up with police are bizarre, to say the least. First of all, arguing that these are unnecessary measures during a time of falling crime rates is bogus. Thankfully, it’s true that violent crime continues to fall across most of the nation (except in several larger cities), but porch piracy is on the rise and has been for some time.
Also, the usefulness of these devices for homeowners is beyond question. It allows you to instantly communicate with someone coming to your door when nobody is home. And if they are on your porch or at your doorway, you have a right to know about it.
The same applies to the privacy argument. Your expectation of privacy drops dramatically when you walk out your door and into the public square. When you set foot on someone else’s property, your expectation of privacy evaporates. (With the exception of using personal facilities like bathrooms, locker rooms or showers with the permission of the owner.)
What it comes down to in the end is that the advocates arguing against this technology simply want to make it as difficult as possible for law enforcement to do their jobs if it involves “Big Brother” having an image of you or any other data on record. I continue to find this argument unconvincing.
The battle continues, however. Over at Buzzfeed this week you can find yet another screed about how facial recognition needs to be banned entirely. To be clear, I’m not saying there aren’t situations where the consumer should be leary about some of this technology. We recently learned that the Russians own and operate that FaceApp system that shows you pictures of yourself looking much older. Turns out they’ve been collecting all of your photos and might be using them to create fake social media profiles.
But that’s the Russians. Not our own law enforcement agencies. This was just a case of caveat emptor. If you don’t know who you’re dealing with, don’t download dodgy apps that rely on you submitting pictures of yourself. But that doesn’t make the technology a bad thing. It’s the people who are operating it.