Neighborhood watch and policing are staples in American society. We are constantly peering through the blinds, looking out for nefarious characters that may mean to do our families harm. Security is paramount for the survival of our communities. Home breaks ins and armed robberies are traumatic experiences that everyone wants to avoid. Many of us can recount tragic situations that rock closely knit communities and make us all want to hug our loved ones tighter. Our homes are our safe spaces so it’s a natural response to ensure that our homes are safe and secure. We are far past the days when folks would leave their front doors unlocked and go about their day. We no longer live in the naivety and innocence of “Leave it to Beaver” society. The police are minutes away should criminal activity take place in our neighborhoods. Traditionally our local government is given the task of keeping us safe. We pour into emergency services through our taxes and continually find ways to beef up our forces with numerous equipment upgrades and policy enforcement.
Now with smart technology and mega companies, you can take the surveillance of your home to the next level with the popular door camera device Ring Doorbell. Amazon bought the company in 2018 for a reported 1 billion dollars as an expansion of their smart homes technology. It’s was a natural pair for Amazon and an opportunity to upgrade a staple in their business which is package delivery. It has become a very popular device in many cities large and small across the country. Now literally every door is watching and recording activity of each neighborhood where these devices are installed. These devices record all day activity which also expands Amazon’s relationship with law enforcement. With these devices it allows the police in neighborhoods across the country more access to surveillance to investigate crimes.
Tech giants like Amazon who operate home surveillance services have wandered into the business of policing with the footage that they store from the operation of these cameras. This expansion of power is coupled with an app called Neighbors that allows users to share data from those devices. This kind of surveillance and scrutiny further chips away at individual privacy and is problematic in many ways. While users are not required to share information with law enforcement, over 50 townships across the country have partnered with the company to seek evidence of wrongdoing. The disclosure of such partnerships are not forthcoming and most of the general public is not aware that their images are may be shared in an investigative effort by the police. We may be aware that our typical condominium residence is equipped with cameras or that outside of residential areas there is surveillance but the sharing of our more private activities being recorded by our neighbors’ doorbells isn’t an idea that has caught on in the general public. Not only are our routines being recorded but they are also being shared with the state through various internet apps that capture this information.
This is a problematic expense to our privacy. On any given day in any given neighborhood, you can be recorded taking out the trash in your skivvies, the route you walk your dog, when you leave and return from work, and a host of other activities that you may or may not want recorded and disseminated. This is huge benefit to police and a marketing tool to expand the reach of these surveillance companies while lining their pockets for the service. They capture date at the expense of your consent.
Another way this device creates a nanny state and reinforces stereo-types is through profiling. Essentially, these programs are aimed at reducing the crime of home invasion we all too often experience. If someone knows they are being recorded through a doorbell camera it may deter the petty thief that wants to steal your package deliveries. With the rise of ecommerce through home delivery, stolen packages have become a big problem. With these smart camera’s we can now see who comes and goes from our doorsteps with the use of the app attached to them. Now our packages are more secure and it saves us time and money. But the issue that many do not recognize is the adverse effect these devices have on the general public.
This creates a broader problem for racial profiling for minorities in these neighborhoods and gives the police a reason to be suspicious of a broad range of minority populations who they deem may not fit into the neighborhood homogeny. Never mind the fact that existing in public isn’t a crime. These devices along with the sharing applications reinforce stereotypes that are malignant in today’s society. By recording everything from the weather to the cars passing along the street, doorbell cameras create an extension of law enforcement that is not regulated to protect the privacy of individuals. The problem is that innocent people can be suspected of crimes they didn’t commit for doing their job, soliciting sales, or simply passing through a neighborhood.
It further perpetuates a stereotype that is dangerous specifically to black men and youth. Once a package thief is captured on camera who happens to be black, that information is shared widely and racial ridicule ensues on platforms like Next Door and social media. The comments quickly turn racial and further escalates the sensitive racial tensions in this country. A very popular singer, K. Michelle, posted a video of two persons who appeared to be young adults approaching her home and it went viral. She said she didn’t know them and barked at them to get away from her front door in the video. She wasn’t home at the time, so she was alarmed that they meant her harm. From the video you could not tell their intent but in the age of fear one can never be sure. It’s a sad day in America when someone knocking on your door is assumed to be a menace to society and a target to law enforcement. Thieves do not knock.
Ianta Summers is the Principal at Summers Public Affairs, a boutique government affairs firm that specializes in merging policy with communications to expose her clients to national media and federal law makers. She has 20 years of political experience under her belt and has been at the center of national and international campaigns. She is a founding organizer with Women’s March and a former senior adviser.