The walls may not yet have ears, but nearly everything else in the typical American household does. With digital assistants and a growing list of increasingly invasive “internet of things” devices, we’re constantly being monitored by the likes of Siri, Alexa, Ring, and Google. These constant companions have not only become more prevalent, they’re also becoming more powerful.
Amazon’s newest home spy tool, Ring Always Home Cam, is an indoor camera-enabled drone. The flying robot independently dislodges from its base to investigate noises or periodically patrol your house when it senses no one is home. While a static camera can be controlled, this Ring-enabled drone will use Amazon’s home surveillance platform to record everyone and everything it sees.
We often think of a Big Brother mass-surveillance state being imposed by governments, when in reality we are building it ourselves with the devices we willingly purchase. What many people don’t realize is that these invasive products are already illegal in the US—it’s just that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hasn’t been enforcing its own rules.
Under an FCC rule from 1989, people are barred from using devices capable of “overhearing or recording the private conversations of others unless such use is authorized by all of the parties engaging in the conversation.” In short: you can’t install your own wiretap.
Albert Fox Cahn is the founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.) at the Urban Justice Center and a fellow at the Engelberg Center for Innovation Law & Policy at N.Y.U. School of Law.
Evan Greer is an activist, musician, and writer based in Boston. She is the deputy director of the viral digital rights group Fight for the Future, and writes regularly for the Washington Post, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, and Wired.