Amazon knocked for helping police with doorbell cameras

This story at NBC News provides yet another example of how so-called digital privacy advocates are going overboard and essentially rooting for criminals instead of the police. The article begins with a description of an event that took place in Arizona recently. A man was awakened by an alert on his phone from his Amazon Ring doorbell. It had detected motion in front of his porch the video showed a group of men breaking into cars on his street. He immediately notified the police, who arrived quickly. The men were interrupted in the middle of their burglary spree and sped away, only to be arrested the next morning.

Sounds pretty good right? Most of the stolen goods were recovered and the perpetrators were caught. And yet somehow we have people who see this as a bad thing.

Amazon, known mainly for its online consumer marketplace, is becoming a potent resource for federal, state and local authorities, peddling an array of tools that harness the power of cloud-based computing, artificial intelligence and video analysis.

Some of the products seem mundane, offering agencies a relatively cheap method of storing, sharing and crunching data through networks of remote web servers known as the cloud. Others are contentious, making it easier for police to identify and monitor people. Together, they show how one company has broadened its influence by supplying law enforcement with technology that has modernized crime fighting but is evolving too fast for government oversight to keep up…

“While providing secure cloud storage does not appear to pose privacy threats, providing a package of technologies that includes powerful surveillance tools like facial recognition and doorbell cameras, plus the capability to pool data into a massive database and run data analytics, does create very real privacy threats,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, policy director of New America’s Open Technology Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for digital rights.

These people are complaining that Amazon is “too deeply embedded” with law enforcement, offering them access to video and pictures, particularly through the Ring doorbell system. Amazon also runs a local neighborhood bulletin board where neighbors can share information and be alerted to criminal activity near their homes. The article goes on to note that it’s not just local police. Amazon is working with the CIA, the FBI, ICE and state police departments in multiple locations.

Why this bothers people remains a mystery to me. Would you honestly prefer that the burglars from the story I mentioned not be caught? Is it more convenient if the cops have to rely on hoping that some fingerprints were left and a match shows up in their database? This sort of system allows for the type of fast response described in the Arizona case.

The folks doing all the complaining are talking about invasions of “digital privacy.” Since when is that even a thing? If you are out walking on the public sidewalk, and even more to the point, approaching somebody’s front door, your expectation of privacy is basically zero. None of these systems are offering law enforcement officials a chance to monitor video from inside your home without a warrant. They are observing activity in the public square, just the same as if a human police officer or civilian witness were observing you.

There is also reason to believe that these porch cameras are acting as a deterrent. Once word gets around that most of the homes and businesses in a particular neighborhood are set up with 24/7 video hooked to motion detectors, criminals are likely going to think twice before trying to get away with anything. Rather than shunning this technology, I’d rather see local governments putting up signs letting everyone know that particular neighborhoods are constantly being surveilled by Ring. And if a crime does take place, the police should be able to access that video immediately.