The Chicago Police Department is preparing to expand its video surveillance capabilities, a move that is raising privacy concerns nationwide.
What’s new? The CPD is planning to launch a pilot program with the video doorbell company Ring, which is owned by Amazon, to further increase the crackdown on crime in the city, following in the steps of around 400 smaller departments across the US, including some 25 suburban departments in Chicago.
CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told Chicago SunTimes that the department has met with the company a month ago and has reached out to other departments who have already partnered with Ring to ask about their experiences with such a program.
How it works: Ring equips its customers with a “smart” doorbell with a camera pointed outside the front door which sends alerts and a video when it detects movement. The videos can be posted on Ring’s social media app, Neighbors. Police departments can request a video, but not from the device owners directly- they would have to ask Ring for the footage after providing it with a case number, a limited time range, and area. The company would then asks the device owner for the video, who can decline and even completely opt-out of future requests.
Police don’t have access to devices, user account information or device location.
Chicago is already the most spied-on city in the United States with around 45,000 surveillance cameras, according to CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
The first department in the Chicago area to partner with Ring was Aurora Police Department in 2018. While many device owners have so far provided requested footage, the police haven’t used any to prosecute a crime.
Critics: “We all accept that when we walk up Michigan Avenue that we’ll be surveilled, but I don’t think we think about that when we’re in our neighborhood walking our dog. There’s something about this that’s creepy, in terms of mission creep. Doorbell cameras were first marketed as a convenience for homeowners, and now they’re being used for surveillance,” said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “Could police one day be able to turn on the camera? It doesn’t take much imagination to think about considering where we are now.”
“You can easily paint the picture of a dystopia, but I don’t think this is a dystopia yet. I think it’s worth considering the privacy cost of that because we don’t want to live in a world where police have direct access to that,” said Northwestern University privacy law professor Matthew Kugler.