I don’t know why anyone thought this was a good idea, but apparently Jackson, Miss. is experimenting with a pilot program that would give police the ability to access real-time video surveillance from your home security camera.
So did none of these people play Watch Dogs? Watch Psycho-Pass? Consume literally any media about the dangers of a surveillance state? No? Go figure.
According to NBC News, police in Jackson, Miss. have partnered with Fusus, a Georgia-based company whose focus is on creating cost-effective surveillance networks for law enforcement, to build a new surveillance network. The proposed network would give law enforcement the ability to access live, real-time footage of private and public security cameras.
Why are they doing this? Well, for the same reason anyone does anything in this country: money.
The pilot program is being explored by cities that are experiencing rising levels of crime but don’t have the resources to properly respond. Take Jackson, for example. The city has experienced rising crime rates over the last two years, and an investigation by the Department of Justice found that the police department was using outdated technology, NBC News reports.
A series of shootings in 2019, one of which involved a pastor being fatally shot outside of his church during a Sunday morning robbery, led Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba to announce plans for a surveillance center in the state.
From NBC News:
But progress on the center has been slow and piecemeal. The $4 million that the state pledged hasn’t yet been allocated by the Legislature, so the city had to find other sources of funding. Jackson police used a Justice Department grant last year to install dozens of surveillance cameras, recognizable by their flashing blue lights and able to send live feeds to police. But older cameras on city-owned properties remained inaccessible for real-time surveillance.
Meanwhile, the urgency to address the city’s crime problem has only grown: In the first 11 months of the year, Jackson’s homicide count has already surpassed that of 1995, its deadliest year on record.
The trial program with Fusus was attractive to Jackson officials because it helps save money by passing the cost of surveillance onto businesses and homeowners who purchase devices from the company.
The way the program with Fusus is designed is that people can add their home security cameras, such as the popular Ring system, to a registry that will allow police officers to access their home cameras in the event of a crime. Those who register can choose how much they want to share, with options ranging from no video at all to an all-day continuous stream.
The tech doesn’t utilize facial recognition technology but does use tech that can track a person by their behavior, clothes, and car. I don’t know why, but tracking people by their behavior seems a bit scarier than simply facial recognition.
Law enforcement using home surveillance cameras isn’t exactly new, as Ring has quietly spent the last few years working with law enforcement to build an ad-hoc surveillance network.
According to Vice, the company would provide law enforcement agencies around the country with maps that would show where all the Ring cameras are located within a given neighborhood. The company also created a portal that would allow cops to request that homeowners submit footage from their Ring camera if they believe a crime has occurred in the area.
Fusus takes it one step further by allowing direct access to those cameras. It’s one thing for cops to request access to what essentially is just a bunch of video clips. It’s a different beast when they can directly access a livestream of your camera. Basically, The Dark Knight explained why this is morally questionable at best in 2008.
“We’re not doing anything nefarious here,” Sahil Merchant, Fusus’ chief strategy officer, told NBC News. “We’re doing this for public safety, not at the cost of people’s civil liberties or privacy, because it’s all up to the individual user to share.”
Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit with a focus on informing the public about surveillance technology, told NBC News that he has serious concerns about how this technology could lead to over-policing of small, nonviolent crimes and the ethical implications that can arise from it.
“If the police can access your camera without a warrant because you gave them permission because you want to help them fight crime, what’s to stop an officer from peering through the camera of a young woman after she gets home from work?” Guariglia told NBC News.
At the moment, the program in Jackson is currently only accessing cameras on city property. The launch of the final phase, which will allow businesses and homeowners to opt-in to the program, is still pending a legal review. Despite no date being given, Fusus devices have already begun to be sold in the city.
Jackson isn’t the only city exploring working with Fusus, either. The City Commission of Ocoee, Fla., approved a similar trial run of the devices, with the department intending to ask homeowners and businesses for advanced permission to access their cameras. Other cities, such as Minneapolis, and Rialto, Calif., have worked with Fusus to build surveillance systems that mainly work with businesses, with very little, if any, focus on using home surveillance.
City officials and residents of Jackson, a predominantly Black city where a fourth of its residents live under the poverty line, have mixed feelings on the heightened surveillance.
“I don’t believe the government should be tapping into my Ring,” Jackson City Council member De’Keither Stamps told the news outlet while expressing concerns about what safeguards were in place to prevent misuse. “I don’t believe we should be sponsoring this.”
Aaron Banks, the president of the Jackson City Council, told NBC News that while the increased surveillance could help fight crime, he doesn’t think it should be in exchange for people’s personal privacy.
“People don’t want to feel like there’s an eye in the sky watching them,” Banks told NBC News. “They want to do what they do on an everyday basis and feel free to do it.”