Comments on the police 'Camera in Focus' project
For some time there has been the database Camera in focus of the National Police. In this - rather controversial - database, citizens and businesses can register their own security cameras so that the corresponding camera images can be used by the police. Privacy First is not against it a priori, but it considers it risky and possibly unlawful. Fortunately, there is a simple alternative.
Meanwhile, more than 314,000 security cameras already appear to be registered in the system, of which more than 55,000 are citizens' cameras. This registration is voluntary. The police can then see where the registered cameras hang, but (they say) cannot watch them live. In the database, the police can see who owns the camera, how long the images are kept and what the camera is filming. To what extent this database is also used by secret services seems to be unknown so far.
Not in advance against
Privacy First is not a priori against camera surveillance. After all, the worst privacy violations are often residential burglaries, robberies and other crimes involving serious violations of a person's bodily integrity. The right to bodily integrity falls under the right to privacy. So Privacy First is for proper investigation and prosecution, with the best possible privacy safeguards for innocent citizens and victims.
But this is where the Camera in Picture project wrings its hands, as a large proportion of the registered cameras involve unlawful camera surveillance, such as private cameras aimed at the public road or at someone else's house or garden. In particular, the increasingly popular video doorbells are a thorn in Privacy First's side in this regard. Earlier we said on AT5 about this:
"The camera is in the doorbell and it just points forward. Everyone who is right in front of your door is filmed and so that is part of the public road. That's everyone walking past that. All unsuspecting passers-by are all constantly on camera and so that's not supposed to be possible."
Video doorbell images often violate other people's right to privacy and are therefore unlawful. Nevertheless, the police do seem to regularly request and use such images. Moreover, the police only very briefly alert citizens to the privacy rules for camera surveillance. Unlawful cameras and video doorbells seem to be tolerated and actively 'exploited' by the police.
According to Privacy First, this is contrary to the broader human rights duty of the police (as part of the Dutch government) to observe, protect, promote and even promote the right to privacy.
Moreover, video doorbells involve another risk we warned about before: they are often linked to the internet. "If a video doorbell is hacked, it is precisely an ideal tool for criminals and for burglars to properly plan their break-in," according to Privacy First in the aforementioned AT5 item.
This risk also applies to misuse of the data in the Camera in Picture police database itself. For many consumers, the security of surveillance cameras and video doorbells is not up to scratch. This can actually compromise people's safety, rather than protecting them.
By the way, there is a simple - low tech - solution to the doorbell problem, in the form of a slider on the camera lens. Earlier this year, this slider was nominated for a Privacy Award. (Since 2018, Privacy First has presented these awards annually at the National Privacy Conference).
The jury described the slide as follows: "Responsible Sensing Lab's Shutterring project aims to create a more accountable smart doorbell by ensuring the privacy of passers-by and owners while maintaining the device's core functionality. Similar to the slider for a webcam, people coming to the door slide up the 'shutter' on the smart doorbell. This allows them to make themselves briefly visible and ring the bell. This way, only the person in front of the camera is in view.
Privacy First hopes that this project will inspire camera manufacturers to start developing more privacy-friendly services and products. Also, Privacy First calls on the police to take a more active stance against unlawful camera use.