By Nathan Barton
Many readers may have heard of Ring, or one of its competitors, like Kuna or Viias. They are all in the home security surveillance business, offering (among other things) video doorbells as well as baby room monitors.
It is simple: your doorbell (wireless, now) is also a video camera, and connected to your internet, so that where ever you are (as long as you have a signal) when someone comes up to your door and rings it, you can see who it is. Or it is the light by your door, instead, and you don’t NEED a doorbell, because you are automatically alerted by your phone when someone gets in range. You can even activate the camera, and (usually for a subscription fee) call up your camera to see what’s going on – grass and weeds, snowfall, etc.
But you are NOT the only one watching!
These companies offer more than just private alerts and other security. According to a CNET article, Ring (now a part of Amazon, after being bought out last year) has such a deal for you – or rather, for your local police gang. In more and more cities, Ring provides grants and free Ring camera/doorbells through local police and lets local police have access to your camera for their own surveillance use.
Isn’t that fun? Not as much fun as having Google or Microsoft watch you through your web camera, especially that one just above the screen of your laptop. But still, fun. And so useful for the cops.
It has been nearly a decade ago that one of my clients down in the Four Corners got a call from a state regulatory agency. The purpose was to arrange an inspection visit. Now, virtually ALL permits for environmental and other purposes today have a “give-up-your-rights” clause in them that says, “ANY government inspector can come to your site and inspect ANYTHING on your site without warning or a warrant or anything else.” (Not those exact words, of course.) So this was really odd, to be told about an inspection.
Until the government goon got around to explaining the real reason for the call. “We saw that you have an oil spill on the ground underneath one of the vehicles over in the corner of your property. You need to take care of that.”
Sure enough, when they went to check, they found that there was a leak, from a vehicle that had been moved to that location just a few days previously. As it turned out, the state agency knew about it because the agency was using near real-time satellite imagery, probably from EROS or a DoD satellite. Legal? Well, according to the permit conditions, yes. Ethical? Moral? Acceptable? Hardly. But a fact of modern life.
Government photography of the land is nothing new. Rural areas have been photographed from the air and then from satellites for at least four decades, courtesy of the USDA Soil Conservation Service (now Natural Resource Conservation Service) and the Farm Service Agency, mapping farmland and doing soil surveys. In the 1980s and since, more and more local governments have done aerial photography for purposes of mapping land use, road conditions, and – inevitably, code enforcement. And of course, “code enforcement” officers and inspectors have long cruised the streets and roads of American communities looking for violations: the grass is too tall, there are weeds, there are vehicles with expired tags, and on and on. Today, they do it with cameras running, and software automatically checking out license plate numbers, comparing last week’s photo to this week’s, and more.
The advent of drones allows even more surveillance, but the real expansion is government co-opting (voluntarily or not) the use of private cameras. Whether those cameras are the little ones on your laptop or the ones with your doorbells or in business parking lots. Especially when coupled with the growing willingness of more and more people to reveal every aspect of their daily (or hourly) lives with their Facebook and other social media “friends” and “followers” – anyone interested (for whatever reason) in seeing what they are doing. How many times a day do we walk or drive down a street when someone is updating their social media platform and OUR vehicle or OUR face is thereby recorded and spread to the world without our knowing it?
And the REAL problem is the ever-expanding ability of government to monitor our every action through all of these conduits. And to digest that information and use it (or store it for future use) against us, our family, and more.
We must fight against that: our own lack of forethought and planning – or our own desire to tell families everything can and WILL be our undoing. At the same time, we must resist the temptation to think we can benefit from government while not being tied to the various schemes for control.
It is not easy – but liberty is not ever that way.