Friday, March 17, 2023

The privacy loophole in your doorbell

 Politico: “…As networked home surveillance cameras become more popular, Larkin’s case, which has not previously been reported, illustrates a growing collision between the law and people’s own expectation of privacy for the devices they own — a loophole that concerns privacy advocates and Democratic lawmakers, but which the legal system hasn’t fully grappled with. 

Questions of who owns private home security footage, and who can get access to it, have become a bigger issue in the national debate over digital privacy. And when law enforcement gets involved, even the slim existing legal protections evaporate. “It really takes the control out of the hands of the homeowners, and I think that’s hugely problematic,” said Jennifer Lynch, the surveillance litigation director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group. In the debate over home surveillance, much of the concern has focused on Ring in particular, because of its popularity, as well as the company’s track record of cooperating closely with law enforcement agencies.

 The company offers a multitude of products such as indoor cameras or spotlight cameras for homes or businesses, recording videos based on motion activation, with the footage stored for up to 180 days on Ring’s servers. They amount to a large and unregulated web of eyes on American communities — which can provide law enforcement valuable information in the event of a crime, but also create a 24/7 recording operation that even the owners of the cameras aren’t fully aware they’ve helped to build. 

“They are part of an ever-expanding web of surveillance in communities across America,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement to POLITICO about Ring’s products. “I’ve been ringing alarms about this company’s threats to our privacy and civil liberties for years.”

Stored video footage is generally governed by data privacy laws, which are still new in the U.S. and largely limited to the state level. So far, all the U.S. state privacy laws, from the strictest regulations in California to the industry-backed law in Virginia, include exemptions if law enforcement comes asking. The most ambitious federal law so far proposed in Congress — the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, which died in committee last year — included the same loophole. As private surveillance grows, this loophole looks bigger and bigger to privacy advocates and security-minded homeowners like Larkin. When it comes to Ring in particular, the company hasn’t just been a passive actor in that growth, or in law enforcement’s interest. As its doorbell cams grew more popular, Ring developed a symbiotic relationship with police, who realized that the privately owned cameras were generating valuable surveillance footage that they could leverage for investigations. Local police departments would often give away Ring doorbells, which the company provided for free in some cases. Ring has an app called Neighbors, where users can upload and post clips, like a virtual neighborhood watch. In 2018, it started partnering with local police departments, with features specifically for officers on the app, allowing them to send public safety alerts and requests for video footage to users in a specific area. By 2023, Ring had nearly 2,350 police departments on its Neighbors network…”