In September of last year, not long after I had shared my concerns that new police cameras could be used with facial recognition software, mayor Drew Dilkens told AM800 that he was in talks with Amazon to make Windsor the first city in Canada to have their police department connect to their Neighbors App which allows residents to readily share footage of their Ring security camera, without a warrant.
This rang alarm bells.
The mayor is the chair of the Windsor Police Services Board. It is unclear whether Dilkens is pursuing the partnership in this capacity or through his role as mayor. It is unclear whether an RFP would be necessary before such a partnership could be established. No one I have spoken to can tell me whether the matter would come to city council where residents like myself would have an opportunity to share their displeasure with the prospect of a partnership with one of the largest companies in the world.
My neighbour across the street has a Ring doorbell. He was an early adopter and years ago he encouraged me to buy one until he realized that my house doesn’t even have a doorbell. He is a good neighbour and he looks out for the people on our street. Last year – or whenever the first year when alcohol was permitted to be sold at Art in the Park – he was sitting on his front porch and saw a man who had, in broad daylight, decided he would relieve himself of piss on the tree in the front of my yard. My neighbour yelled at him until the drunk man’s friend pulled him aside and moved him up the street.
And that, my friends, is in a nutshell why I don’t believe the Ring doorbell is not the response that will lead to a safer Windsor. What is important is that we have neighbours who we know and look out for each other. Sending video footage of this pathetic man after the fact would not change the fact that he had exposed himself and peed on my tree. To send the footage as evidence to the Windsor Police Service would only add a burden to their workload as this is a crime that is clearly not worth pursuing.
Many people act on the impulse to share every transgression of what we think as normal and to share it online on Facebook. I belong to two neighbourhood Facebook groups and sadly, when people are not sharing pictures of the three wild turkeys that once roamed our hood, they are sharing footage of people engaging in suspicious or criminal behaviour. One person recently shared footage of a woman who was walking down the sidewalk at 4am until she stopped to walk up the steps of this person’s porch to see if there was a leftover cigarette in an ashtray. Seeing none, the woman stepped off the porch and moved on. The person who shared this footage was furious. A couple of years ago, a man wrote to warn people of a suspicious man who was taking pictures of people’s houses. A couple hours later, Andrew Foot of International Metropolis and author of Windsor Modern replied to say that the suspicious man in question was him taking photos of architecture that caught his eye.
My neighbors — on each side of my house and across the street — all use Amazon’s Ring doorbell. This sometimes raises opportunities to measure my commitment to privacy. For several nights in a row this past summer, some kids (I assume) were egging cars on our block. Eventually it was my “turn,” and I woke up to my neighbor knocking on my door to inform me that my car had been egged. He said he had footage from the incident captured by his Ring, and that, if I wanted, he could send it to the police. I thanked him, but politely declined the offer. I live in Dearborn, Michigan, which has the largest population of Muslims in the United States, and I am certainly not going to involve the police when there’s a strong possibility that it might endanger a Muslim kid over a problem that can be solved with white vinegar. Surveillance often encourages “solutions” that far outstrip the level of the infraction. Without a camera, it’s unlikely that someone would bother to call the police for a car egging, but the existence of footage — the fact that people have potentially actionable evidence they feel compelled to use — turns a minor instance of vandalism into a situation involving law enforcement. Chris Gilliard, Caught in the Spotlight, Jan 09 2020
The above story was shared by Dr. Chris Gilliard of Detroit whose scholarship “concentrates on digital privacy, and the intersections of race, class, and technology.” Chris was our guest speaker for an event I helped organize with three fellow University of Windsor colleagues: Natalie Delia Deckard (Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminology), Bonnie Stewart (Faculty of Education) and Kristen Thomasen (Law). The evening of talks was entitled “Safer Communities in a ‘Smart Tech’ World” and it was on January 22nd, 2020 at The Performance Hall at the University of Windsor’s School of Creative Arts Windsor Armories Building. Bonnie Stewart was our host who introduced the topic to our audience. Kristen spoke to some of the legal context and I spoke about concerns using a network technology lens. Chris spoke directly to the issues at hand and then we had a great question and answer period with the audience.
Around the event we were in the media locally and nationally in hopes that we could start a larger conversation in Windsor to address our concerns. And we weren’t the only talking about this issue. On the February 14 2020 Friday Roundtable on the Dan Mac Donald Show, all three guests – city councillor Rino Bortolin, CEO of WeTech Alliance – Yvonne Pilon, & journalist and marketing specialist Jon Liedtke all raised problems with the potential partnership.
If you would like to raise concerns with this potential partnership with Amazon, I would recommend that you do so via the upcoming community consultation dates with the Windsor Police Service who are preparing to update their 3 year Business Plan as required by provincial law.
The Business Plan, is a Board oversight instrument that provides the Chief of Police with direction regarding priorities and objectives for the Service. It also provides a fiscal projection for the Board and Council beyond the current operating budget. Windsor Police Service – Business Plans
The Chief is responsible for the implementation of the business plan. In order to provide maximum flexibility and to encourage initiatives, the Chief is free to determine the best means to achieve the plan objectives.
The consultation dates are
- Saturday, Feb. 29 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Libro Centre (3295 Meloche Rd.) in Amherstburg
- Monday, March 2 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at MacKenzie Hall (3277 Sandwich St. W.) in Windsor
- Thursday, March 5 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Const. John Atkinson Memorial Community Centre (4270 Alice St.) in Windsor
- Monday, March 9 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the WFCU Centre (8787 McHugh St.) in Windsor
- Wednesday, March 11 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Windsor Water World (400 Wyandotte St. E.)
Questions about the community consultation sessions are to be addressed to Inspector Tammy Fryer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 519-255-6700 ext. 4440.
You might want to ask Windsor Police Service why they cannot follow the example of Sarnia Police who offers a simple webform for residents who have video cameras to facilitate information gathering in case of an emergency or criminal activity that requires a formal investigation.
To my mind, the Sarnia approach is much less risky than partnering with a behemoth of a company who 1) already indefinitely retains information of who enters and leaves the homes of Ring owners as well as footage from their Ring cameras; 2) once planned “Watch Lists” built on facial recognition of Ring footage of those deemed suspicious, 3) currently shares Ring user information with a variety of third-party trackers (including Facebook), 4) restricts sharing between neighbours using its app to only matters of crime and safety, 5) once contemplated that all Ring cameras would automatically record footage in response to 911 calls and 6) has had unreported data breaches and repeated reported data leakages of personal information from their Ring system because the company refuses to add additional security features on their devices. Oh, the irony.
When Windsor Police Chief Pam Mizuno was interviewed for the podcast Straight Outta Windsor, she was asked, how do you measure success? Pam states that there are statistics such as the crime rate which help give indication of success but she also goes on to say that public trust in the Windsor Police Service is very important as well.
An important aside: there is no substantial evidence that Ring cameras reduce the crime rate.
In 2007, David Murakami Wood, currently Canada Research Chair in Surveillance Studies at Queen’s University, helped write a report on the spread of CCTV for Britain’s information commission. Murakami, then at Newcastle University, told the New York Times that, “the idea of CCTV as a deterrent for something like this is no longer accepted.” CCTV cameras don’t deter crime, so why does Ottawa want them?, Canadian Lawyer, Michael Spratt, 19 Jul 2019
Not only do I believe that a partnership between Windsor Police Service and Amazon’s Ring Service would erode public trust in our police services, I am very afraid that it could greatly harm the trust that we have between neighbours. It would make me feel less safe.