By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
How far are you willing to go to protect yourself and your community from crime?
How much privacy are you willing to give up? How much would you be willing to pay for security services?
A new startup surveillance company is hoping you — or your homeowners association — will pay $1,500 apiece for their new security cameras.
According to several recent reports (see here and here), the fledgling tech company, Flock Safety, has amassed nearly $10 million in seed money to develop highly sophisticated neighborhood surveillance cameras. On Flock’s website, founders claim that their accurate License Plate Reader (LPR), a key feature of their proprietary cameras, will help solve and reduce crime.
The wireless security system works by capturing high quality still images and storing them in the cloud, where they can be retrieved upon demand, and provided to local law enforcement to aid in apprehending criminals.
Not surprisingly, the company’s target market includes homeowners associations, and, well, any neighborhood with residents that fear becoming victims of crime. The company hopes to court a lot of HOAs that don’t have gated entries, or those that can no longer afford to pay for costly security gates and guards.
Of course, surveillance cameras are not new to HOAs. They’ve been around for quite a few years now. But several features make Flock Safety different from other surveillance systems. First, Flock captures still images rather than grainy, unclear video footage. Second, the company claims its License Plate Recognition (LPR) feature delivers crystal clear images for use by law enforcement.
To address privacy concerns, LPR software can also be configured to create a “Safe List” of vehicle information for community residents, so that the cameras will, theoretically, only scan and capture license plates of non-residents.
Another key difference is that Flock does not monitor camera footage. Instead, the HOA owns 100% of the data, and gets to decide who gains access to it.
What could possibly go wrong?
First of all, who will control access to camera footage?
In all likelihood, it will be the HOA board. Just like any other access to corporate information, homeowners and residents will only see photographic evidence that the HOA wants them to see.
The Safe List feature, in particular, is disturbing, because it encourages selective monitoring and, by extension, selective enforcement of restrictions.
For example, consider the case of a resident of the community who has a habit of speeding or running stop signs. That resident will likely be on the Safe List, and the cameras won’t provide evidence of an identifiable license plate.
However, non-resident guests or a home service providers will have their license plates scanned, just in case they happen to break a law or a traffic safety rule.
Now suppose a camera is set up at the community park or pool. Will HOA board members and management use the data to stop and question — or possibly harass — any non-resident who “doesn’t belong” in the community, even if they happen to be an invited guest? Think of the potential for racial or ethnic discrimination.
On the other hand, the Safe List approach to security assumes that residents of the neighborhood could not possibly be criminals.
But, think about it.
The best way to burglarize, steal, vandalize, assault a resident, or engage in any nefarious activity is to move in to a home within the community — behind those entry points with cameras — and then add your license plate to the HOA Safe List.
And if a dishonest neighbor or board member knows the precise location of each camera, or obtains full access to security photos, it becomes quite easy to avoid detection or even destroy potential evidence.
So, in the best case, your HOA’s surveillance cameras might give you the creeps. In the worst case, it may be misused to target the innocent and protect criminals operating from inside the community.
There, don’t you feel safe now?