January 9, 2017 | By Dave Maass

Why a Tax Break for Security Cameras Is a Terrible Idea

Law enforcement agencies around the country have been expanding their surveillance capabilities by recruiting private citizens and businesses to share their security camera footage and live feeds. The trend is alarming, since it allows government to spy on communities without the oversight, approval, or legal processes that are typically required for police. 

EFF is opposing new legislation introduced in California by Assemblymember Marc Steinorth that would create a tax credit worth up to $500 for residents who purchase home security systems, including fences, alarms and cameras. In a letter, EFF has asked the lawmaker to strike the tax break for surveillance cameras, citing privacy concerns as well as the potential threat created by consumer cameras that can be exploited by botnets. As we write in the letter: 

Personal privacy is an inalienable right under Section 1 of the California Constitution. Yet, in 2017, privacy is under threat on multiple fronts, including through the increase in use of privately operated surveillance cameras. Law enforcement agencies throughout the state have been encouraging private individuals and businesses to install cameras and share access to expand government’s surveillance reach through private cooperation. The ability for facial recognition technology to be applied routinely and automatically to CCTV footage will present even more dangers for personal privacy. EFF has significant concerns that, by using tax credits to encourage residents of California to buy and install security cameras, A.B. 54 will not only increase the probability that Californians will use cameras to spy on one another but will also build the infrastructure to allow for the growth of a “Big Brother” state.

In addition, this tax credit for surveillance cameras may create a new weakness for security. In October, a massive cyberattack that exploited personal cameras disabled Internet traffic across the country. EFF and independent security researchers have also discovered surveillance cameras that were openly accessible over the Internet, allowing anyone with a browser to watch live footage and manipulate the cameras. The potential for breaches will grow commensurately with the increase in the number of cameras in communities promoted by the tax incentive.

EFF urges Steinorth to amend A.B. 54 and, failing that, we ask his colleagues in the California legislature to vote against the bill. 


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