Illinois City Decides To Blow Tax Dollars On Operating A Storefront For Private Security Camera Company
from the asking-for-literal-buy-in-from-the-public dept
The thin blue line between cops and cop-friendly tech continues to be erased, mostly by cops. No longer content to underserve the public, law enforcement agencies are welcoming the warm embrace of consumer surveillance products in hopes of adding private tech to their publicly-funded surveillance mesh networks.
Ring, Amazon’s home surveillance tech acquisition, was one of the first to successfully merge market expansion with law enforcement self-interest, resulting in Ring handling the PR work while cops handed out “free” cameras to locals with the implicit suggestion recipients of freebies might not ask for a warrant before handing over their security cam footage.
This unnatural relationship has only become more explicit over the last few years. Ring continues to swallow the market, helped in no small part by its conversion of police departments into marketing teams. Flock, a Ring competitor that also offers automated license plate readers, has managed to convert gated communities and government agencies into unpaid PR reps. Helping out with this effort are lazy “journalists” more than willing to publish police press releases verbatim and only seek comment from Flock reps and cop spokespeople who see nothing wrong with co-opting private cameras for public use.
That’s how local papers end up running “reporting” that features the Flock brand name a half-dozen times in the space of 400 words. And that’s how these private companies are able to quote local “reporting” while pitching products to private buyers, as well as the law enforcement agencies hoping to make these cameras a part of their own surveillance networks.
But rarely does it get more explicit than this. The city of Wheaton, Illinois has managed to cross the line from mutually advantageous to incestuous by turning its own website into a storefront for a consumer-facing surveillance camera company.
There’s no better place to start than the city’s own press release, hosted at the city’s website:
As the City continually seeks to promote and enhance public safety in our community, the Wheaton Police Department is enlisting the public’s help with a new safety initiative, Connect Wheaton. This program consists of an online security camera registry at www.connectwheaton.org where residents and businesses can register the location of their security cameras with the Wheaton Police Department to help expedite emergency response and crime investigations.
Being able to determine where there are security cameras – including video doorbells, home security systems and commercial surveillance cameras – significantly enhances the Wheaton Police Department’s response efforts. With this information, Wheaton Police Department detectives can quickly determine if video evidence might be available at a particular location and whom to contact to request it.
Absolutely. Knowing where cameras are would help law enforcement solve crimes. That’s indisputable. And a registry, as proposed by the City of Wheaton, would pinpoint location as well as provide contact info so cops can ask for footage via personal request or demand it with a warrant. Nothing about this — SO FAR! — is particularly unusual.
It starts getting weird quick, though
Residents and businesses can register their cameras with the Wheaton Police Department through the self-service portal at connectwheaton.org. Your information will be kept confidential and only accessed in the event of a criminal investigation or emergency incident.
First, this assurance is meaningless. When cops say your information “will be kept confidential,” they mean from everyone but themselves. Limiting access to investigations or “emergency incidents” is just as meaningless, considering the police can initiate “investigations” for little or no reason. And “emergency incident” is there to cover any situation where cops access people’s information when nothing is currently under investigation.
The city’s statement does note that registration does not give officers’ live access to registered cameras. While that seems like a government entity demonstrating its interest in protecting the constitutional rights of residents, this is really nothing more than the city stating a logistical reality: info on camera location, as well as the owner’s personal data, is not capable of providing direct or on-demand access to live footage or recordings.
But things really start to look ugly when you visit the city’s website, which not only allows residents to register cameras, but pushes them towards purchasing products from the city’s preferred provider, Fusus.
To share your cameras, all you need is a small fususCORE device that plugs into your camera system. Once it’s set up, it enables camera sharing based on your settings without impacting your network.
Are you, the proverbial Wheaton resident, unsure of where to get this “fususCORE” and/or incapable of performing a perfunctory Google search? Great news! The City of Wheaton allows you to purchase approved surveillance devices compatible with the city’s surveillance network and desires directly from its publicly-funded website.
There’s a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Wheaton PD and Fusus that the site calls “Terms and Conditions.” But unlike most ToCs, it has nothing to do with purchasers’ agreements with Fusus and everything to do with what the PD gets from this lucrative (in more than just financial terms) agreement with its chosen provider.
You know, things like this, which says the department can go through Fusus directly to obtain footage from private cameras, despite suggesting otherwise in the statement on the city’s website.
Partner grants video access to Department for videos designated by Partner that are owned by or under management by Partner.
Are cameras or tech sold through the city’s website considered to be “owned or under management?” Are registered devices considered to be “under management?” The MOU doesn’t say. And neither does the city, which has only offered the assurance there will be no real-time access to privately-owned cameras… unless the camera owner agrees to do so via a handy “panic button” included in the Fusus camera management app.
The MOU also says the PD can view recorded footage (after gaining access through Fusus) even when there’s no emergency or criminal investigation underway.
Video access by Department does not constitute commitment on the part of Department that video will be viewed in emergencies or when requested by Partner.
This is some bullshit. City residents are encouraged to purchase compatible surveillance tech via the city’s website. The included “Terms and Conditions” have nothing to do with private residents or their purchases. The agreement being made when residents buy cameras through the city’s site isn’t between them and Fusus. It’s an agreement between Fusus and the PD — one that says the PD is under no obligation to abide by the constraints stated in the city’s announcement: restraints that would restrict access to criminal investigations or emergency situations. The MOU says the PD can get the footage directly from third parties and it doesn’t even need to demonstrate it’s doing this for any particular law enforcement purpose.
Fortunately, Wheaton residents have the most powerful option in their hands: inaction. They’re not required to register cameras or buy Fusus add-ons to make it easier for cops to obtain recordings without their express permission. All they have to do is nothing to thwart this expansion of the government’s surveillance powers. And, as we all have observed from decades of low voter turnout, doing nothing is something most citizens do best.