Is BIG DOORBELL Watching Us?
Motion Sensing Floodlight Cameras-Security, Surveillance and High Tech Stalking
Ring cameras are turning neighborhoods into surveillance networks —Glenn Harvey NBC News
The new frontier of privacy war is being waged around the complex legal and regulatory issues stemming from the “terrifically addictive and widely engaging hodgepodge of voyeurism, suspicion and unease” generated by the rising use of motion activated floodlight cameras and neighborhood security apps. Amazon touts its $1.2 billion dollar investment in Ring camera technology as the “Evolution of Outdoor Security.”
The ultra-bright LED floodlights are activated by motion detected within customizable zones with a 270-degree field of view allowing the user to detect motion around corners and in blind spots. The high-resolution camera can be coupled with a siren alarm and two-way audio allowing the user to speak with anyone…from anywhere!
Combined with the Ring app, the user can flash lights, sound the alarm and zoom-in to focus on areas under surveillance. Additionally, the floodlight cam sends instant alerts to a smartphone or computer. The system costs up to $350.00 and is difficult to install. The Ring disclaimer identifies the device as a security… not a surveillance camera.
"Neighbors" is the Ring app that allows users to share video feeds and receive dynamic updates from connected neighborhood watch apps like Citizen that operates in San Francisco receiving updates from 911 calls.
Max Read describes the “hyper-awareness” he experienced after installing a Ring security camera as “terrifically addictive, a wildly engaging hodgepodge of voyeurism, suspicion and unease.”
A recently divorced man moved into a town home next door to mine during the Spring 2020 COVID 19 shutdown and, over the next six months, exhibited conduct that escalated to include trespassing, stalking and harassment.
By October of 2020, I had been swept into a whirlpool of controversy and aggravation after the “nuisance neighbor” installed a motion sensing floodlight cam directed towards my patio door to facilitate his 21st century high tech stalking.
I get it! Sociological research on interpersonal attraction has determined propinquity - or nearness - to be a driving force in the formation of relationships between people. The propinquity effect describes the simple fact that nearness - in an office, organization or neighborhood - fuels the tendency for people to form friendships or romantic relationships with people they encounter most.
Despite having accrued an archive of documentation submitted to the landlord and SFPD, during the dark winter months of 2020, the “nuisance neighbor” installed a Ring Motion Sensing floodlight camera on property - he is not the owner of - to monitor my early morning activities. The high beam floodlight activated within six feet of my patio door fulfilling legal criteria for “light trespassing” and privacy violations as captured by the following Youtube videos: VideoOne, Video Two.
Some would argue a professional woman in her sixties should be flattered by 24 hours of unrelenting attention from a man half her age, but this intolerable situation has been scheduled for Arbitration by the San Francisco Residential Rent Board.
...the “nuisance neighbor” installed a Ring Motion Sensing floodlight camera on property - he is not the owner of - to monitor my early morning activities. The high beam floodlight activated within six feet of my patio door fulfilling legal criteria for “light trespassing” and privacy violations ...”
Having researched the legality of a neighbor spying on me, I have a better understanding of issues the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) calls “A Perfect Storm of Privacy Threats.” Ring security cameras and neighborhood watch apps have the capacity to turn a quiet neighborhood into a digital network of anxiety, fear and paranoia.
According to FBI annual crime statistics, violent crime and property crime have steadily declined since 2017. San Francisco crime data showed a steep decline in most crime categories in 2020 except vehicle thefts, burglary and arson.
Vendors of high-tech home security use marketing schemes that rely on convincing homeowners their property is threatened by crime and that Ring cameras prevent it. Ring cameras send notifications to the users phone each time the doorbell rings or motion is detected, transforming the delivery man, an urban raccoon or low flying pigeon into a potential criminal. Additionally, they facilitate the reporting of “suspicious behavior” and the promulgation of high-tech racial profiling.
Recent evidence suggests Ring security cameras distort how much actual crime is taking place in a neighborhood and may not help police solve major crimes at all. An NBC investigation found that since 2018, Ring has “partnered” with 800 law enforcement agencies offering them access to video footage recorded by millions of customers. Interviews with 40 law enforcement agencies in eights states that partnered with Ring found no hard evidence supporting Ring’s claim it’s cameras make neighborhoods safer by deterring and solving crime Indeed, in 13 of 40 jurisdictions no arrests were made as a result of Ring footage.
According to the Washington Post, Ring partnered with law enforcement agencies to create the Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal. This portal allows local police
to map the approximate location of all Ring cameras in a neighborhood and request footage from camera owners. Police do not need a warrant to access footage. On March 17, 2016, Ring CEO Jamie Siminoff emailed a company-wide declaration of war on “Dirtbag Criminals.” “We are going to war with anyone who wants to harm a neighborhood.”
Sam Biddle writes in The Intercept, “Ring’s internal documents and video demonstrate why this marriage of private tech corporations with public law enforcement has troubling privacy implications.” The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project is a nonprofit that fights excessive local and state level surveillance. It finds a “deafening lack of evidence any city has been made safer” by the use of Ring camera networks.
The lack of evidence that Ring cameras deter or solve crime amplifies “Big Brother” privacy concerns generated by Ring’s plan to incorporate facial recognition and biometric analysis into its camera lines to identify “suspicious” faces.
In a February 1, 2021 press release, EFF obtained emails that show LAPD sent requests to Amazon for Ring camera video of Black Lives Matter protesters and refused to disclose what crime was being investigated and how many hours of footage had been requested.
Ronda Kaysan writes in the New York Times about “grainy footage” from her neighbors security cameras uploaded in 30 second loops to the Ring Neighbors app and explains you don’t even have to own a Ring camera to join Neighbors and click on a video map within a five mile radius of your home for “fish-eye” views of feral cats, skateboarders and maintenance workers.
As long as security cams don’t infringe on personal privacy and the footage is used for lawful purposes such as prevention of package theft or vandalism, it is legal for a private property owner to install security cams in plain view and visible from the street.
The Connecticut Office of Legislative Research issued a Report on the Use of Surveillance Cameras in Residential Areas. The Connecticut statue CGS&53a-189a, best defines voyeurism as "a person is guilty of voyeurism who, with malice, knowingly photographs, films, videotapes or otherwise records the image of another person without that person’s consent, while that person is not in plain view and has a reasonable expectation of privacy. California lags behind on these basic privacy matters.
The use of motion sensing floodlight cameras in apartment units, condominiums and congregate living settings is clearly unlawful when installed by a tenant for the surveillance of another tenant! Landlords cannot use cameras to track a tenant’s personal life. Pointing cameras at a tenant’s private space can be a breach of a tenants quiet enjoyment, or harassment.
Landlords can justify placing cameras in common areas out of duty to provide a safe environment. Everything you need to know about Apartment Security Camera Laws highlights the fundamental security camera issues as placement and location. In most states it is illegal to install surveillance cameras anywhere people have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Tenants should obtain permission to install security cameras from the landlord codified into residential lease agreements.
Neighborhood security apps can trigger “wild paranoia” about perceived crimes and threats but the measurable security they provide is negligible. A Hermosa Beach woman called the police begging for help after checking her Ring camera that appeared to detect a “stranger” walking through her front door. The police dispatcher asked her to check the timestamp on the video. It revealed the intruder had entered her home an hour earlier. The “stranger” in the security footage was HER and she had called the police on HERSELF!
What I have been able to glean from existing research about the legality of the growing use of home security devices like the Ring motion sensing floodlight camera, is that they are legally permitted for outdoor use by private property owners on their private property.
SpyGuy.com asks the question, is it legal for neighbors to point security cameras toward your property to spy on you? “The short answer is yes … if your neighbor is the property owner. Both of you are entitled to protect your private property with security cameras to thwart and deter burglars, vandals and package thieves.
Security cameras can be placed by a property owner facing public areas including your yard, driveway or front door because you have no reasonable expectation of privacy there. Security cameras facing your bedroom, bathroom or lounge where you may be captured undressing or engaged in intimate acts are illegal.
Jamming, disrupting or damaging a neighbor’s surveillance camera is fraught with risk and may legally constitute malicious destruction of property. SpyGuy.com recommends communicating with the owner of a surveillance camera you believe may be invading your personal privacy.
Should that fail, seek third party mediators and contact police and a privacy law attorney. In San Francisco resources include the local BAR association referral line, the Residential Rent Board, the San Francisco Tenants Union and Legal Assistance for the Elderly.
A simple, elegant and ecological solution is to block the view of a surveillance camera you believe is invading your privacy with beautiful trees and shrubs. Tenants have a reasonable expectation of privacy and it is illegal to install surveillance cameras inside apartment complexes. Ring video surveillance systems include two-way audio and under Federal wiretapping laws it is illegal to record someone without their consent.
Washington Post Technology columnist Geoffrey Fowler concludes in The Doorbells Have Eyes: The privacy battle brewing over home security cameras:
“We should recognize this pattern: Tech that seems like an obvious good can develop darker dimensions as capabilities improve and data shifts into new hands. A terms-of-service upgrade or a hack could turn your doorbell into a privacy invasion you did not see coming. “
Ahimsa Sumchai Porter, MD, West Portal, Medical Director Golden State MD Health & Wellness is a longtime neighborhood and environmental activist