BIG DOORBELL Is Watching You!
Motion Sensing Floodlight Cameras — Security, Surveillance…and High Tech Stalking!
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 it’s $1.2 billion 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 camera 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 “hyperawareness” he experienced after installing a Ring security camera as a “terrifically addictive and wildly engaging hodgepodge of voyeurism, suspicion and unease.”
A recently divorced man moved into a townhome 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 camera 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 the 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 privacy violations and “light trespassing” captured by the following Youtube videos: https://youtu.be/7fqGYizAAbo. and https://youtu.be/50if_69JuAw.
Some might 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.
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 steeply declined since 2017. San Francisco crime data showed a steep decline in most categories except burglary and vehicle thefts attributed to the 2020 quarantine.
Vendors of high tech home security including Ring and ADT, use marketing schemes that rely on convincing homeowners their property is threatened by crime and that security cameras prevent it. Ring cameras send notifications to the users phone each time the doorbell rings or motion is detected, transforming the delivery man, 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 corporation 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 eight states who partnered with Ring found no evidence supporting Ring’s claim it’s cameras make neighborhoods safer by deterring and solving crime. Indeed, in 13 or 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 Ring 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 “Rings’ 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 found a “deafening lack of evidence any city has been made safer by the use of Ring cameras.” The lack of evidence Ring cameras deter or solve crime is amplified by “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 protestors 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 Office of Legislative Research issued a Report On the Use of Surveillance Cameras in Residential Areas at: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2009/rpt//2009-R-0359.htm. Under statute CGS&53a-189a, a person is guilty of voyeurism who, with malice, knowingly photographs, film, videotapes or records the image of another person without that person’s consent or while that person is not in plain view and has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
The use of motion sensing floodlight cameras in apartment units, condominiums and congregate living settings is obviously unlawful when installed by a tenant for the surveillance of another tenant! Landlords cannot use cameras to track a tenants’ personal life. Pointing cameras at a tenant’s private space is a breach of a tenants quiet enjoyment or harassment.
Landlords can justify placement of cameras in common areas out of the 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 landlords and codify the consent into residential lease agreements.
Neighborhood security apps are triggering “wild paranoia” about perceived crimes and threats while the measurable security they provide is negligible. A Hermosa Beach resident called the police begging for help after checking her Ring camera video feed 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 you and your neighbor are legally entitled to protect your property with security cameras to thwart and deter burglars, vandals and package thieves.
Security cameras placed by a property owner facing public areas including your yard, driveway or front door are legally permissible 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 mediation 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.”