Is your doorbell or thermostat eavesdropping on you in the privacy of your own home?

Sensors recognize when you are home. They know what you buy, the music you enjoy, the movies you watch and even what your voice sounds like compared to others. They can record you without your knowledge.

SHARE Is your doorbell or thermostat eavesdropping on you in the privacy of your own home?
Doorbell-Camera Company Ring Partners With Over 400 Police Departments, Raising Surveillance Concerns.

Amazon has struck a deal to give police direct access to user data collected by their Ring doorbell system, writes Sapna Khatri of ACLU Illinois. This allows the police to watch hundreds of thousands of doorsteps across the country.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

With technology controlling nearly every part of our lives, even our experiences at home are different.The thermostat may adjust the heat as it senses your presence, your refrigerator may generate a new grocery list as it notices the food you use, and your electronic assistant (think “Alexa”) turns on the lights and plays music by simple voice command.

You even have the capacity to see who is at your door through a smart doorbell while you are halfway across the world.

This technology is thrilling and convenient.

But the convenience comes with a high cost to personal privacy. With sensors that recognize when you are home, they know what you buy, the music you enjoy, the movies you watch and even what your voice sounds like compared to others. They can record you, without your knowledge, in your own home.

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Opinion

By bringing smart technology into every nook and cranny of our home, an unprecedented amount of data about our domestic lives is shared with tech companies.

This data is collected and stored, both in the device and in the cloud, allowing companies to develop intricate files about you, your interests and your habits. With access to this sort of intimate data, advanced technology is creating a future in which the experience of being in your private residence converges with the experience of being online. This transformation of the home into just another tech platform also means it opens up the space to the same types of race, gender, class and age discrimination we see with targeted ads online.

This data is not simply valuable to the company that sells the “smart” device. Whether it’s through a contractual agreement with Amazon directly, or a data breach caused by a nefarious hacker, data collected by Alexa does not stay with Amazon.

Reports recently uncovered how Amazon struck deals with law enforcement across the country, including a number of law enforcement agencies within Illinois, to give them direct access to user data collected by their Ring doorbell system. Law enforcement now has eyes on hundreds of thousands of doorsteps across the country. The same doorbell system may soon utilize faulty and dangerous facial recognition technology, enhancing the ways it can turn innocent people into criminal suspects.

As the prevalence and availability of these home devices grow, so does the unnerving escalation of surveillance powers our smart devices are giving to law enforcement.At a time like this, consumers need protections written into law that keep our personal data private.Yet, Congress seems unable to reach any consensus in this area — meaning that states must act before we enter an Orwellian world.

Illinois has stepped into this gap.

Our state already has taken steps to address the use of technology capturing our actions in public spaces so that we are not worried about a police drone hovering over a family picnic in the park.Certainly, privacy rights must be stronger within our own home than in a public space.

Now is the time for the Protecting Household Privacy Act, currently in the Illinois legislature.Like other privacy legislation before it, the bill writes into state law specific constitutional protections, shielding consumer user data from law enforcement access, unless law enforcement gets a warrant or the express consent from the owner of the household device. The proposal also requires manufacturers to disclose on their website the categories of data their device collects, and the names of any third parties to which that data will be disclosed.

These products are the wave of the future, their availability and use only will expand. Now is the time to put in place basic, fundamental protections so that we can come home, enjoy time with our friends and family, and rest assured that we are not living in a surveillance state.

That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Sapna Khatri is an advocacy and policy fellow at the ACLU of Illinois.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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