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Civil libertarians are celebrating Amazon's decision to require law enforcement to obtain a subpoena or search warrant before accessing Ring doorbell camera videos. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to video surveillance in our everyday lives. Video cameras have become a regular feature of residential areas and public spaces, raising concerns about privacy and civil liberties.
That's great news. One needn't be anti-cop (I'm certainly not) to agree that government should jump through a hoop or two before seizing images people reasonably believe to be private.
While some argue that surveillance cameras like Ring make people feel safer and are instrumental in solving crimes, the available data do not support these claims. Furthermore, there are concerns about the potential bias in labeling behavior as suspicious based on race.
Overall, however, the available data don't support the claim that the availability of Ring videos to law enforcement reduces crime. (On the other hand, a 2022 study of footage posted by users in Los Angeles suggests that the decision of when to label recorded conduct suspicious is often influenced by the stranger's race.)
Beyond doorbell cameras, other forms of public surveillance, such as red light cameras, raise questions about accuracy and efficacy. The overall impact of ubiquitous surveillance cameras on our security is uncertain, as we may be sacrificing our right to privacy without clear evidence of increased safety.
Do other security cameras do more good? Consider a few examples. By now we're all familiar with the devices mounted above intersections that are supposed to snap pictures of cars that run red lights.