The Internet of Things and the Right to Record

Right to RecordToday there are over 5 billion connected devices in the world that make up the Internet of Things (IoT). Research firms like IDC and Gartner predict that within five years’ time, this number will skyrocket to 25 billion. Although we often think of the ways these IoT devices can make our lives easier, make our homes smarter, improve manufacturing, and even revolutionize healthcare, there are some uses for IoT that aren’t as straightforward.

One of these, is how IoT has changed our ability to record the world around us, and immediately share what we capture. Combined with social media, this ‘right to record’ has brought into question when it is appropriate or not appropriate to record. More importantly, is it legal?

The Legalities of Recording in Public

Smartphones, tablets, and even connected eyewear are all part of IoT, and they’re all capable of recording pictures and video. The most obvious example to look at is the phenomenon of members of the public recording law enforcement officers, performing their duties.

  • There are a number of states that have an ‘all parties consent’ law, requiring that subjects be made aware of video, image, or audio capture that is taking place.
  • There is a clause, however. There should also be a reasonable expectation of privacy on behalf of the subjects. This means, with interpretation, that filming in public places, without consent, would be acceptable and legal.
  • Illinois and Massachusetts have ‘all parties consent’ laws, however they don’t allow for the provision regarding the expectation of privacy. In 2010, Tiawanda Moore was arrested for attempting to record law enforcement personnel with a cell phone. She was later acquitted of all charges (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-08-25/news/ct-met-eavesdropping-trial-0825-20110825_1_eavesdropping-law-police-officers-law-enforcement).
  • It is not legal to record on private property, to make commercial gain from recorded material of another person’s likeness, or to use recordings to commit libel.

The Right to Record is a Two Way Street

Tech Republic, a leading trade publication for IT professionals, recently ran an opinion piece on how IoT and smart devices can cause controversy when it comes to the right to record. (http://www.techrepublic.com/article/the-right-to-record-is-not-a-question-of-technology-but-rather-power-and-policy/).

The article not only discussed the recording of law enforcement by private citizens, but also how it can be beneficial for law enforcement officers to constantly record their daily duties. Doing so would add a layer of transparency, and would serve to protect the interests of officers and their relevant governments, as well as the general public. This recording would be in addition to the already present police vehicle dash cams, and the surveillance cameras in most urban centers.

The questions then, are not as much about recordings been made in the first place, but rather about how they are used. Two key questions are;

  • Should law enforcement agencies have the right to publish footage or images of suspects before they have been convicted of crimes?
  • Should individuals have the right to publish police activity when footage or an image doesn’t portray an event or incident within its full context?

The Internet of Things is hugely dependent on constant information, easy accessibility to information, and the almost instant distribution of that information. IoT has changed the way that people expect services to work. Almost one third of those surveyed by the American Red Cross in 2012 would expect law enforcement or emergency assistance if they posted a request for help on a public social media website. Would those who are embracing social media be happy to post controversial images or videos of law enforcement agents in the line of duty? What if they were the ones being featured on a law enforcement social media account?

As more connected devices are able to easily record and share the world around us, lines will become blurred when it comes to rights. The ‘right to record’ could be considered a civil liberty under the right to free speech, so does the government share that same right? As IoT devices become more commonplace, and the internet of everything becomes a part of daily life, these questions will be answered, laws will be tested, and new precedents will be set.

20 million more IoT devices will be installed, carried, or worn by people at all levels of society, by 2020. Users and creators of IoT technologies will need to keep a close eye on ‘the right to record’, and how it impacts the industry and public perception of these devices in the years to come.