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What you may not know

If your home camera recordings capture a crime, you might think you have to report it to the police, but you aren’t required to.

Although Amazon Ring cameras typically arrive programmed to allow police to request footage from you if a crime occurs within a certain distance, you are allowed to opt out of those requests in the app’s settings menu.

However, there are certain key exceptions to police getting footage from your surveillance device without initial permission.

The first is if you back up your recordings to the manufacturer’s cloud account: If that’s the case, police just have to request the footage from the company.

The second is if the police want or need to use your footage in the prosecution of a crime. If your surveillance videos are needed as evidence, police will have to make sure there is a proper paper trail, like a subpoena, requesting it.

But, if you are subpoenaed for your home surveillance recording, federal law says that you have to comply with the summons.

Punishments for avoiding a subpoena vary by state, but you could be charged with a misdemeanor, found in contempt of court, or fined.

When Consumer Reports asked 11 different home surveillance companies if they notify their customers when police request footage, only two, Arlo and SimpliSafe, said they don’t. A third, BlueADT, didn’t specify either way. The rest, including August, Blink, and Canary, let you know.

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What they don’t tell you

The irony of surveillance cameras promising improved security is that security is often what they fail at.

Several companies have been hacked or breached in the past few years. Let’s examine three in particular.

In May 2023, the FTC charged Amazon Ring with failure to honor their customers’ privacy. The commission found that any employee was able to watch any customers’ footage they wanted. On top of that, they didn’t implement certain security features, which allowed hackers to take over the devices. Amazon was fined $5.8 million for their lax oversight.

Next, there is Anker, a company that had solid reviews for its Eufy devices for a decade, until 2022. An exposé by The Verge revealed that, rather than end-to-end military-grade encryption and local storage Eufy promised, it was possible for people to stream unencrypted video from across the country. Making matters worse, the company categorically denied that the breach had taken place.

Another company, Wyze, had its positive reviews pulled from many websites in 2023 when it was found that users could view and download another person’s video feed from the company’s dashboard. This caused many outlets to suggest getting rid of all Wyze equipment.

Self surveillance

There’s an uncomfortable truth behind the popularity of security devices: The more we use them to watch others, the more we get used to being watched ourselves.

A study by the University of Houston found that among people who used community groups like Nextdoor, the perceptions of crime within their communities increased.

Nextdoor and other groups like it muddy the home surveillance waters by presenting themselves as a type of community or social media platform, while they simultaneously encourage members to report suspicious activity first and ask questions later.

And while the overall perception may be that crime is rising, in reality it is significantly decreasing. According to NBC News, in December 2023, the FBI found that violent crime had dropped 8% from the same time the previous year, and property crime had dropped to its lowest level since 1961.

A criminologist who analyzed the FBI data believes the gap between public perception of rising crime and the reality can be blamed partly on social media consumption.

These neighborhood watch groups might be a self-fulfilling prophecy: creating both the crime supply and the demand.

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Better sorry than safe?

As a society, we have long been used to being surveilled in public. Now more and more people want to make sure their homes are surveilled as well.

While what you record is mostly yours (unless the police officially request it, or the company springs a leak) there are always exceptions.

As we toggle between safety and privacy, let’s be sure to remember that we’re all just one click away from becoming our own Big Brother.

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Bronwyn Petry Email Specialist

Bronwyn is currently part of the email content team for Moneywise. Before starting here, they freelanced for several years, focusing on B2B content and technical copy. Pre-pandemic, you could find them planning their next trip, but lately, if they're not at work, you can find them hanging out with their cat and dog.

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