The Surveillance State Is at Your Doorstep

A series of viral videos starring people caught by video doorbells in recent weeks has been taking the internet by storm, from the man who inexplicably licked a doorbell to some brazen package thieves. While this content has been popular on social media, it hasn’t prompted a serious conversation about how the rise in unregulated consumer surveillance products is a serious privacy concern.

That’s a conversation that should have happened before these products started flooding the market, and it may be too late to put this genie back in the bottle.

While law enforcement officials ostensibly face some regulations that govern their use of surveillance technology, consumers aren’t treated the same way. In part, this is because the consumer market for surveillance products is pretty new; video doorbells were fairly unusual and exotic until very recently — and now they’re on every podcast ad break and block.

Consumers are promised safety and piece of mind, and it’s not just in the form of video doorbells.

People use cameras in their homes, and businesses are taking advantage of technologies like automatic license plate recognition. While some have expressed concerns about how tech can be made to spy on its owners by people exploiting security vulnerabilities, that doesn’t seem to be stopping many consumers. Whether they don’t care about their privacy, don’t think the risk is that serious or feel the benefits are worth the risks, they’re bringing recording devices into their homes and businesses.

Sometimes, consumers are actually crossing the line legally; for example, you’re not supposed to film the street of a neighbor’s property with a surveillance device — but many people do just that. And the technology they’re using is storing data for commercial use.

Some of these companies are developing facial recognition so they can spot known friends or family algorithmically, for example. Users are furnishing considerable free material that will be used for profit, often without being aware because they failed to read the user agreement.

Meanwhile, in some areas, law enforcement are asking to hook into this bonanza of free surveillance data and track people as they move throughout cities. Often touted as another safety and community feature, user platforms where neighborhoods voluntarily pool data from their electronic doorbells and other surveillance devices are also very vulnerable to law enforcement exploitation.

Some cities are even subsidizing the devices to set up a surveillance network, or considering whether to require networked surveillance for certain kinds of businesses or settings. This would make the U.S. much more like the UK, with its formidable network of CCTV, something privacy advocates have long resisted. Privacy is, after all, a right enshrined in the Constitution and the thought of giving it up is disturbing for some proponents.

People with privacy concerns are often dismissed with claims that they can “just avoid” areas where surveillance is used. Others are told that they have nothing to worry about if they have nothing to hide — or assured that data is deleted, not stored. These claims don’t really hold water, though: They don’t address the fundamental worry that it is getting harder and harder to move about freely, without being monitored or profiled by law enforcement or private companies.

Technology often moves faster than regulations, and it can be hard to rein in. The response to privacy proponents suggests that surveillance is already becoming normalized — something that more people should be worried about. Even if it’s not a concern now, it could be at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Photo Credit: Getty Images


Sophie A
Sarah A1 months ago


Greta L
Alice L2 months ago

thank you

Bobby M
Bobby M2 months ago

the only way to fight it is for enough people to make enough noise opposing it.

Helen C
Helen C2 months ago

We can never be too safe now a days

Emma L
Ellie L2 months ago

Thank you for posting

Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago


Alea C
Alea C2 months ago

No one has any privacy anymore, and soon everyone will think it's always been that way, because "conditioning" works.

Heather B
Heather B2 months ago

Kind of like shutting the barn door after the horse escaped. The assault on privacy has been going on for years. We have no privacy. What the government hasn't taken corporations have. The civilian user though is less a problem than those who profit from gathering the information and exploiting it. Most people I know use cameras tto protect their property and families; corporations use it for profit and governments for power.

Mollie Wilson-Milesi

I am seriously considering installing a surveillance system because of destructive, violent neighbours. Up until now, the police have not taken my complaints seriously because I don't have any video proof, which I would have if I installed a surveillance system. The idea of video cameras is not something I enjoy, but if this is what it will take to protect myself and my pets, then what options do I have otherwise?

Bill Arthur
Bill Arthur2 months ago

Do not think we have any 'right to privacy' except maybe in private. If you go out in public then you better understand you are probably being watched. If you do not want any camera looking at a street then all the pictures of police doing bad things would be a breach of their privacy wouldn't it? Just assume someone somewhere is watching you when ever you step out of your own private home.