Self Surveillance

Published September 6, 2019 by justicewg

survelance camThe Grandview Heights Police have created a voluntary program to register private security surveillance cameras owned by homeowners in Grandview. In an announcement in the city blog, the police have asked residents to go to the city website and enter the location and contact information for homeowners with outside cameras.

I am in favor of cameras outside your front door. Read my personal experience later in this post. I want to know what is happening on my property – but I’m not so happy with the new programs that police are using to register and coordinate with companies that provide home surveillance. Grandview is not part of the Ring program(yet?), but they are asking residents to register their own cameras.

Details on the video camera registration program

There are obvious questions about how this program would work, I sent some questions to officer Cohill with the Grandview Heights Police Department.

Who will own video footage that is sent to the police department? If there was an important video clip that might go viral, would the police be selling the video?

“The police doesn’t sell videos and are bound by the Ohio Public Records Act.”

The police will not sell your video, but the Public records act means that it would become open to Ohio Sunshine laws. A news organization (or anybody) can request the video, and then use it for any purpose they want. There are many “true crime” TV shows, your right to ask for income from the video is lost after the police take possession of it. Any income you might generate from selling the video to anyone will be lost. You will lose any right to restrict the use of your video.

What other agencies might the police share your video with?

“The video would only be shared with other agencies, as required by law.”

Any of the Federal agencies – FBI, DEA, etc – could request the use of your video. You will have no rights to stop the further sharing of your video between government agencies, forever.

Does a person who registers their video camera have the right to deny the use of the video recording in their possession?

“The Grandview Heights Police wouldn’t force any citizen to provide us with a copy of video, without a legal warrant. Being a part of the program doesn’t change the answer.”

The police can’t force you to provide video surveillance, however the prosecutor can ask the courts for a warrant. If you are registered as a video camera owner, that makes it much easier to obtain the warrant (because you have told the police that your camera exists). It doesn’t really matter that much – if you have an external camera, and the police can see the camera, they can ask for a warrant for the recording from the camera.

What level of crimes will police determine justifies the use of the video surveillance that is being offered in this program? Will it be used to track dog walkers who don’t clean up after their pets? Scooter users who break the law by driving on the sidewalk?

“The police will enforce the laws within its jurisdiction as needed. If it is necessary for us to ask for the video, to help us enforce the laws, then we will do so. “ – Officer Cohill

As you can read in the story I recount later in the post, I have real problems with losing the option of determining the kind of crime my video recording will be used by the police to investigate and conduct enforcement. I doubt that they have the time to be using the video against minor crimes – but I have no way to know what the video is being used for.

My surveillance camera story

The advantage of a good quality video surveillance camera outside your front door is that it can provide some needed footage if something goes down at your home, but it also can record outside your neighbor’s house, depending on how you have the camera pointed. This incident happened in front of the house across the street. All of the following was learned via review of the camera recording afterwards.

One night, a young man came walking down the sidewalk, and something about the front porch of my neighbor’s house triggered an instinct in him that told him he knew the owners (he did not). He made his way up to the front door and began pounding, and loudly shouting to open up. After a while, he pulled a porch chair over near the door, and continued the yell and occasionally knock.

My neighbor didn’t hear the noise at first, and since it was late on a Saturday night he was not expecting visitors. Eventually he heard the pounding and went to the door and saw the stranger demanding to be let in. He never opened the door, just told the guy that he had the wrong house and he should go away. After a few minutes it became clear the guy was messed up on something, and was not going away. The neighbor told the guy he was calling the police, and he did so.

Messed up guy stumbles around on the porch for a while longer, then whatever brain malfunction that had taken him to this house was resolved, and he stumbled back down the walkway and continued down the sidewalk.

After another five minuets the police arrived, and talked briefly to the neighbor, then drove down the street and found the impaired guy about 10 houses away. As they began an interrogation of the guy, his friend, who I assume was out looking for the guy, showed up. He was able to convince the cops that his friend had just drank too much and would be escorted to a safe place.

The police might have pulled the guy in for public intoxication, but the guy had not really done anything illegal – he didn’t break anything on the neighbor’s porch, and although he was obnoxiously demanding to be let in, he didn’t threaten violence. I’m sure that it was a busy night for the cops, so they decided to let the friend drag the impaired guy away.

We still wondered what happened with the impaired guy when I discussed the video of the incident with the neighbor later. Although the guy was confused and obnoxious, he didn’t have the stumbling walk of a drunk. Maybe hallucinogens?

Had things gone more wrong that night – if he had damaged the porch – the video from my camera would have been important for prosecuting a case against the guy. I certainly would have given the footage to the Grandview police. However, if the guy had been arrested by the police, and if the situation was that no damage had been done, and if they asked me for my surveillance videos, I don’t know if I would have complied. I don’t want “being confused” to become an offense that sends you to jail.

My cameras belong to me, and the images they take are my property. I understand the intention of the Grandview police in creating the video camera registry, they “want to get the bad guys”. But I’m not going to volunteer to become part of a government surveillance system. There are already a large number of police cameras up on the traffic light poles at major intersections in the city. There has to be a line that the government can’t cross, and I think the registry is over that line.

Ring is making partnerships with police

Although Grandview police are not listed as being part of the network of Ring camera partners, the Columbus Ohio police are working with Ring.

As part of the Ring camera partners program, police are giving real time 911 data to Ring, so it can add “crime news” posts for its “neighborhood watch” app

The Ring doorbell experience

This is a person’s story about their experience with a Ring doorbell camera, from a post on the MetaFilter blog.

So, we just moved into a house with Ring doorbells. And let me tell you something! They’re pretty neat! I was a few blocks away from the house when somebody needed to drop something off, and I was able to verbally respond and tell the delivery person to leave the package on the doorstep because I’d be there in a few minutes. You can also add additional ringers anywhere in your home where there’s an electrical socket. Super handy!

Also, they are supported by a web of software explicitly designed to make you paranoid, distrustful, and maybe just a bit more racist. Yay!

Whenever someone sees something “suspicious” on their Ring, they flag it. And then that little video clip pops up on a map at the top of the app. Yep! The first thing you see when you open the app is all the events that your neighbors have flagged. Is that one dude down the street going to flag it every time someone not white looks at their house? You know it, buddy!

Wait, can I get an autogenerated “crime report” for my neighborhood? Can we do that weekly? And can we put up a notification on your phone by default that your weekly crime report is ready? It’s in there!

So yeah. It’s a potentially really nice, useful bit of technology, but unfortunately it’s being marketed by or to fascist nutbags. I’m looking for an alternative

The police list of homes with security cams is also public

One last thought about the list the Grandview police are compiling. That database is also information that is open through the Ohio Public Records Act. So if someone wanted to know which homes in Grandview had cams, they can make a request for the full record from the police. And the cops will have no recourse – they must hand over the full list.

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