Video doorbells and other sensor-based security devices are rightly promoted as tools to keep homeowners and their families safe. As security devices, they go a long way toward keeping property owners abreast of what is happening around their homes. But surveillance always has two sides to it. The other side of home security has the FBI worried on behalf of law enforcement agencies around the country.
Recently discovered documents reveal that the FBI has warned law enforcement agencies about the potential for criminals to use video surveillance and other security devices to monitor police activity. Like monitoring enemy combatants on the battlefield, the ability to monitor police movements gives criminals ample opportunity to avoid arrest, destroy evidence, and even fight back.
An Array of Sensors
California’s Rock West Solutions explains that a video doorbell is essentially an array of sensors. One sensor picks up motion and triggers the camera to start recording. The camera itself is a sensor that transforms visible images into digital data. A third sensor takes the video data and either stores it or sends it to a remote location for processing.
This matters because sensors are becoming more sophisticated all the time. Law enforcement agencies use them to catch criminals just as the FBI fears criminals will start doing in reverse. Examples of law enforcement sensors include gunshot detection systems, red-light video cameras, and facial recognition systems.
The FBI is concerned that more advanced sensors will present increased dangers to law enforcement officials. And in a day and age in which anti-police sentiment seems to be growing unchecked, there are very real concerns that devices as seemingly harmless as video doorbells could put law enforcement in jeopardy.
Video Doorbells a Special Concern
Privacy experts concerned about video surveillance rightly point out that video doorbells differ very little, at least technically, from standard video cameras. They do much the same thing with the added enhancement of on-board audio. Yet video doorbells are of special concern to the FBI because they are considered entry-level home security devices.
Not everyone jumping into the home security and home automation pool will invest in full-blown systems from the start. Many go small, then grow their systems as they decide exactly what they are comfortable with. The video doorbell serves as a nice starting-point device that can be had for little money and requires almost no technical knowledge to install.
The Privacy Ship Has Sailed
Regardless how you might feel about the FBI’s concern, it should be obvious that the privacy ship has sailed. In fact, it sailed a long time ago. The amount of personal data floating around in cyberspace is almost unimaginable. Try as we might, it is nearly impossible for any one of us to completely hide in modern society without disconnecting from everything.
Your typical smartphone is loaded with sensors that constantly collect and send information to a variety of parties. Anything and everything connected to the IoT is a potential information collector as well. And of course, companies we give our personal information to our more than happy to share it with others.
The FBI is concerned that video doorbells and other sensory-based security technologies pose a threat to law enforcement. Their concern is legitimate. But such equipment is not going away. Nor is it likely to be modified in any way that would enhance law enforcement safety. So at the end of the day, law enforcement will have to adapt to the new reality. That is just the way it is in our sensor-laden society where privacy is a mirage.