Privacy and the Fourth Amendment: Will They Soon Become Extinct?


video surveillance2

Source: Google Images/protonvpn.com

Recently I read an interesting but unsettling article in the Guardian about Amazon’s Ring and how it is “the largest civilian surveillance network the US has ever seen.” (Cringe) It’s a good piece of investigative writing to read, especially for any aspiring investigative journalists out there.

WE’VE GOT OUR EYE ON (ALL OF) YOU

Here are some highlights of this well-written, informative article (some are direct quotes):

  • 1 in 10 police departments can now access Ring videos of privately owned homes without a warrant. Once that content is released by the owner there is no way to revoke access or control how the content is used or shared by law enforcement.
  • Ring doorbells, according to this article, “pose a serious threat to a free and democratic society.” 
  • Since April 2021 (some law enforcement agencies have had a relationship with Ring since 2018), there have been more than 22,000 individual requests for video access.
  • “Ring cameras are owned by civilians [and] law enforcement are given a backdoor entry into private video recordings of people in residential and public space that would otherwise be protected under the fourth amendment.”
  • “Ring blurs the line between police work and civilian surveillance and turns your neighbor’s home security system into an informant. Except, unlike an informant, it’s always watching.” (bold added for emphasis)

“Ring is simply not compatible with a free society”.  –  Max Eliaser, an Amazon software engineer.

  • This surveillance “dragnet indiscriminately captures everyone” – this means children as well people of color/sex/race and “class-based inequities when it comes to who is targeted and labelled as “out of place” in residential space.” 
  • With the development of facial recognition technology, many experts are concerned of its use with Ring regarding racial and gender biases. In the past, Amazon has sold their facial recognition technology to law enforcement but placed a one-year moratorium on it (due to pressure from civil rights groups and AI researchers), which expires in June 2021.

NOT THE EYE YOU HOPED IT WAS

On a slightly more positive note, an article published by NBC reports police say “cute little videos but little evidence.” Based on an NBC interview with police in Winter Park, FL, the police department there hasn’t made a single arrest as a result of Ring videos.

Ring promised that neighborhoods would be safer with their product (they claim burglaries are reduced by 50 percent). “But an NBC News Investigation has found — after interviews with 40 law enforcement agencies in eight states that have partnered with Ring for at least three months — that there is little concrete evidence to support the claim.”

Hmmm….

WASTE OF TIME OR DANGER TO OUR PRIVACY?

Most of the time, officers reviewed videos of “racoons and petty disagreements between neighbors.” Still, every move you make, every interaction you have outside your house, in your neighborhood, is watched by Ring and maybe at some point, law enforcement. 

“Thirteen of the 40 jurisdictions reached, including Winter Park, said they had made zero arrests as a result of Ring footage.”

I agree with the Guardian article and its concerns about privacy and Fourth Amendment violations. Where do we draw the line between people’s privacy, safety and catching criminals in the act? How much of your privacy are you willing to sacrifice for what may be a false sense of security and safety? While Ring may deter B&Es (burglary, essentially), it certainly won’t deter rapists, white collar crime, even homicides unless a perpetrator is caught on a neighborhood camera. What are the odds? What if you have neighbors who racially profile people who don’t live there? 

I have a feeling we’ll be discussing and arguing these issues for some time. I, for one am not willing to give up my privacy and my freedom to move about undetected and undeterred. Time will tell which way the pendulum will swing on this issue. If we lose that freedom, what goes next?

#fourthamendment #privacyrights #ringdoorbell #amazon #neighborsapp #fightingcrime #civilrights #freesociety

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