Are Tax Breaks for Video Security Worth the Possible Repercussions?

Assemblyman Marc Steinorth is under fire for legislation that he introduced in late 2016 that would allow private citizens to claim up to $500 on their taxes to spend on items to improve home security. Under this legislation, citizens could use the money they receive to increase home security, including fences, security alarms, and home security cameras. This bill would be very useful in helping the state of California offset some of the large expenses they have related to security. Steinorth believes that a person’s security and the security of their home shouldn’t only be limited to people who have the money to afford security systems. He wants to make that peace of mind something that everyone can afford. The proposed bill was introduced as an effort to help make California safer following a proposition adopted in 2014 and one in last November.

In 2014, California adopted Proposition 47. This proposition reduced sentences for certain felonies. Among those felonies include the possession of drugs used for date rape, such as Rohypnol, and gun theft. As imagined, the backlash from watchdog groups and victims was huge, but wasn’t enough to stop California from passing another Proposition late last year that was another huge blow to victims rights groups. This most recent proposition, Proposition 57, was met with a lot of criticism due to its nature. The proposition makes it easier for certain victims to get paroled.

While lawmakers in California have been busy passing propositions even amid outcries from the public, they haven’t paid attention to the rising crime rates. In California, in 2015, the rate of property crimes and violent crimes rose by about 8% compared to years in the past. This rate is much higher than other states, who saw a drop in property crime rates of 2.6% and a rise in violent crime rates of only 4%. It’s obvious that something needs to be done in California to make sure that the residents are kept safe amid the passing of these propositions and the increased crimes rates. But police and other security groups are worried that simply increasing personal security cameras isn’t the way to make California safer. In fact, they argue that it could possibly do the opposite.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is worried that Steinorth’s proposed legislation will do more harm than good. Because the police have invited personal users to link their security camera footage to a larger web, there has been some backlash regarding the safety of that. There are two main problems that the EFF sees with creating a large database of accessible security camera footage. The EFF is concerned that by allowing personal security cameras to be used to help solve crimes and keep watches on neighborhoods, police would have too much power in watching what was going on at all time. They want to avoid the possibility of inadvertently creating a police state – one in which the security camera footage, combined with advanced facial recognition software, would mean that police know what everyone is doing all the time.

Police usually have to follow certain avenues to be able to get footage from cameras and to try to find out who a perpetrator is. With a network of easily accessible security footage, they wouldn’t have to use the prior avenues to do so. They would be able to view footage of anyplace whenever they wanted to. This concerns a lot of people, although many of the victims who are interested in backing this legislation aren’t worried about this as a side effect of the bill passing. Steinorth is in a situation where he will have to work with the public to find a healthy balance in his proposed legislation.

Another threat that the EFF is worried about is the threat of hacking. There have been some problems in the past with hackers using networks of security cameras to knock surveillance offline and to open up vulnerabilities in websites. At this time the EFF is trying to get Steinorth to remove the part of his legislation that would offer incentives to individuals purchasing and installing security cameras on their property. This group fears that the sense of security that could be created by a network of personal security cameras is not worth the problems that may arise down the road.

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