The Atlantic: Porch Pirates Are the True Victims of Society

Sting uses fake Amazon boxes, GPS to catch would-be thieves

A slew of Amazon delivery thefts has spurred residents of an affluent San Francisco neighborhood to fight back using sophisticated surveillance apps and smart cameras like Nextdoor, Nest, and Amazon’s own Ring, according to a new report.

But their efforts have enraged digital civil rights activists and sewn racial discord in the elite area that has undergone rapid gentrification.

The Atlantic chronicled the struggles that Potrero Hill residents faced from a local “porch pirate” who continually targeted their Amazon packages. The resulting legal battle has tested the limits of their liberal compassion as the neighborhood continues to grapple with the growth of “citizen surveillance” technology.

Potrero Hill was once a working-class neighborhood dominated by minority communities and bohemian artists. But the nearby big tech boom in Silicon Valley has helped to transform the neighborhood into a predominantly white-collar enclave where homes sell for millions of dollars.

The Atlantic noted that the neighborhood’s most prominent hospital is now named after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

It was digital technology that eventually enabled Potrero Hill residents to catch the culprit:  a former drug addict and public housing resident named Ganave Fairley, who was eventually convicted of multiple thefts as well as drug possession.

Fairly stole or damaged numerous Amazon packages from doorsteps around Potrero Hill. She was nabbed after residents caught her on Nest and another cam called Kuna, as well as cellphone cameras, according to the report.

An estimated 17 percent of American homeowners currently have a smart video surveillance device, and unit sales are expected to double by 2023, according to the report. Amazon acquired Ring last year, while competitor Nest is owned by Google.

Competitive pricing has contributed to their growing popularity. But the real boost has come from police officers. Local officials also told the Atlantic that Amazon’s Ring division has been “particularly aggressive in marketing its products” by partnering with police departments around the country.

“Citizen surveillance” had drawn the ire of digital civil liberties activists, who object to the partnerships between big tech companies and law enforcement.

These groups recently signed an open letter calling these partnerships  a “serious threat to civil rights and liberties, especially for black and brown communities already targeted and surveilled by law enforcement.”

The Atlantic reported that Fairley is currently appealing her convictions, arguing that each “stealing spree” should equal a single conviction, rather than each stolen item.

The legal battle has ignited race discord in the neighborhood. Fairley is black while many of her Potrero Hill victims are white.

After serving time in jail, Fairley was released on probation, but was allegedly back to stealing Amazon packages in no time.

The Atlantic reported that posts started appearing this fall on the Neighbors app showing Ring videos of someone who fit Fairley’s description taking packages from doorsteps.

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