Are My Neighbors Spying on Me?

All this data also may paint a skewed picture of the areas where we live. Across the U.S., crime is falling. In 2018, property crime dropped 6.3 percent from the previous year, and almost 28 percent from 2009, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Yet log into Citizen or Neighbors and you might think you were in the middle of a crime wave.

“We need to learn how to be data literate and we’re not,” said Pamela Rutledge, a media psychologist at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, Calif., and director of the Media Psychology Research Center, a nonprofit organization. “We need to know what we’re looking at and know what it means.”

We may not be data literate, but our thirst for data seems boundless.

Now, for $2,000 a year, a concerned homeowner can buy a service from a company that will affix a camera to a pole and angle it toward the street to capture pictures of the license plates on every car across two lanes of traffic up to 100 feet away. Two cameras, one positioned at either end of the block, could capture all the cars coming and going down a street. The company, Flock Safety, monitors the video footage. Flock cameras are in 400 cities in 36 states, and half of its customers are civic associations.

The idea behind the camera: If someone steals a bike or breaks into a house, police can review the footage looking for any suspicious vehicles. While Ring has partnered with 405 law enforcement agencies around the country, potentially providing them access to homeowners’ video feeds, Flock alerts authorities if a camera spots a vehicle with a license plate in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database.

“Is this a surveillance state? We don’t think that it is,” said Garrett Langley, chief executive of Flock Safety.

At some point, you have to wonder how many cameras we actually need, and how much of the footage is worth watching. Robin Guarino, who has lived in her house in West Orange, N.J., for 20 years, doesn’t mind that many of her neighbors installed video doorbells. She sees the benefit — a camera might deter a porch pirate.

But recently a couple moved into a house on the corner and affixed small cameras to the side of their porch, facing out onto the street. That got her attention.

“It’s a little bit creepy,” she said. “What are they going to capture? Nothing goes on in this neighborhood.”

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