There is a massive new wave of video and information headed our way – home security systems, doorbells and cameras now dot every neighborhood in America. With these devices comes massive amounts of passive video set to record when motion is detected. Sometimes, this a great thing, like when it stops crime. Sometimes it’s a creepy thing, like when it records awkward first date kisses or dads interrogating new boyfriends remotely. But most of it happens without you knowing it. See Ring videos for example.
The interesting question is who can see these videos? Surely the owner of the doorbell or camera, but what about the company hosting the data or the company that made the equipment? Well, a lot of that will depend on the contract the consumer has with these vendors and a lot of that will be buried in the fine print.
Your first instinct is probably – hey, how can they legally record me? Doesn’t that violate my constitutional right to privacy? The first thing you need to remember is that “constitutional” rights only exist between you and your government, not between you and another citizen or company.
Take for example the first amendment right of free speech. This right guarantees that you can express your political views and protects almost all speech. However, speaking broadly, your boss could fire you for wearing a MAGA hat – something the government could never stop you from doing.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, there is no such thing as a constitutional right to privacy. A law professor of mine used to carry around a pocket version of the US Constitution (something he copied from Justice Black) and every time someone would argue in class that a certain action violated a citizen’s right to privacy, he would hurl the book at them and say – show me this right! The fact is, it’s not an enumerated right.
So, does that mean these doorbell cams and home security systems can simply record anything they want and that companies can put it on the web? Well – yes and no. Certain laws prohibit the intentional placement of cameras and recording devices to protect your expectation of privacy. For example, in Kentucky, KRS §§ 531.090 and 531.100 define a crime of Voyeurism and Video Voyeurism respectively. Under these state laws (passed by the legislature and not part of any constitution) a person may not intentionally use a camera to record nudity without another’s permission. So, your neighbor can not set up a corner security camera, aim into your bathroom window and then try to claim it was just an accident. However, if you run by the property line streaking and it shows up on the footage that is probably not considered an intentional recording.
On the flip side, again generally speaking, when you are in public you don’t have (or at least you should not have) a privacy expectation and thus no privacy protection. So if my doorbell camera is set up to only look and record for 30 feet into my yard and you happen to decide to walk down the street in your undies and it picks up that footage of you in the street – too bad for you. Nothing that happens in a city street is private.
Be Informed & Aware
As society starts recording more and more, two things are incumbent upon us as citizens and consumers. First, you need to remember that no matter whether or not you are “alone” if you are in public you might be fair game. Second, before you install that doorbell, read the agreement, see what you are allowing the software, hardware and cloud storage companies to access.
In the end, it’s the ability of consumers to vote with their dollars and purchase products that keep secrets secret that will direct how this video footage is used.