On January 6, Canada’s CTV ran a story on package theft in Montreal West, a Quebecois suburb. “Porch piracy” — grabbing parcels left at doors by delivery services — isn’t just a Canadian problem, of course. It’s become endemic in prosperous western societies, particularly in densely populated areas with front doors located at convenient dashing distance from streets and sidewalks.
What perked ears around the world in this particularly story, however, was a cautionary note from Quebec’s provincial police, telling victims not to post doorbell camera images or video of porch piracy to social media.
“You cannot post the images yourself,” said police communications officer Lt. Benoit Richard, “because you have to remember, in Canada, we have a presumption of innocence and posting that picture could be a violation of private life.”
But is going onto other people’s porches and stealing their stuff really a “private” activity?
And does recording (and, if one chooses, sharing) what happens on one’s own property, or on “public” property visible from one’s own property, violate anyone’s reasonable expectation of privacy?
I’d answer “no” to both questions, and I suspect you would as well.
Furthermore, presumption of innocence is a concept for judges and jurors in court proceedings, not a ban on people collecting and sharing information that might later be used to challenge the presumption.
For the sake of argument, however, let’s accept the claim that running off the sidewalk, climbing the stairs of your porch, grabbing the box from Amazon with a new pair of shoes you ordered as a birthday present for your mother-in-law inside, and running away is, all else being equal, a “private” activity which you’re not entitled to record or publicly comment on.
It seems to me that all else needs to be made explicitly unequal … and there’s an app for that — “terms of service,” so to speak.
Some enterprising entrepreneur should sell little plaques for prominent display at front gates or on porch rails:
NOTICE: ENTERING THIS PROPERTY CONSTITUTES A WAIVER OF ALL RIGHTS, INCLUDING PERSONAL PRIVACY RIGHTS, WITH RESPECT TO PHOTOGRAPHS, VIDEO RECORDINGS, OR AUDIO RECORDINGS ESTABLISHING THEFT, PROPERTY DAMAGE, OR OTHER CRIMINAL ACTIVITY.
Maybe a shorter version would work, but you get the picture (see what I did there?), as will any would-be thief.
If such plaques make their way to market at a reasonable price, I’ll certainly order one. And display it, if it doesn’t get stolen first.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.