By Maya Srikrishnan and Jesse Marx.
At least five San Diego County police agencies are partnering with a doorbell surveillance company owned by Amazon to gain access to footage captured outside homes and businesses.
Katy Stegall reports that the program is meant to reduce package thefts and other types of crime, and it benefits not only law enforcement but one of the world’s largest corporations — raising questions about the proper relationship between tech and police in an era of “smart technology.”
Police agencies portray these partnerships as a win-win for residents because the footage is voluntarily uploaded and because the program isn’t relying on taxpayer money. Still, the deals are being struck without the wider knowledge of the public and elected officials.
A researcher with the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation also pointed out that the doorbell devices, while not costing police anything, help drive a monthly source of revenue to a private company. La Mesa police gave away a handful of the doorbell devices through a social media contest.
There are also privacy considerations. The doorbells does not come with facial recognition software, but they could in the near future. Late last year, Amazon filed a patent for technology capable of identifying faces through doorbell devices. The ACLU has advocated against facial recognition technology because it’s been shown to disproportionately misidentify women and people of color.
The doorbells are just one piece of a growing system of surveillance in San Diego.
Earlier this year, Jesse Marx reported that the city’s “smart streetlights” were equipped with cameras. Even members of the City Council were unaware that police had been accessing the footage.
In 2016, we also reported that the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department had quietly launched a drone program with no public input. Chula Vista purchased similar technology. Those camera-equipped drones had been used in more than 400 incidents in the first five months of the program, NBC 7 reported.