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The latest property surveillance technology has pros and cons

(Share from https://www.afr.com/wealth/pros-and-cons-of-new-surveillance-technology-20171107-gzglif; Author: Jimmy Thomson)

One of the topics at the International Bar Association’s annual conference in Sydney last month was the issue of electronic surveillance and security, and their implications on privacy.

This is a hot topic in strata, partly because the steps that we take to make ourselves more secure may mean we are more likely to be living cheek-by-jowl with people whose businesses range from the naughty to the nefarious.

Look at it this way, who in our society will most benefit from intercoms with built-in security cameras, not to mention lifts that require an electronic key that will take you to only your own floor?

Add secure parking and living so high off the ground that intruders would have to abseil off the roof, and you have the perfect base for the drug dealers and sex workers who are living in electronic fortresses financed by the rest of us. But that’s beside the point. We are rapidly moving into an era where electronic fob keys and even passwords are old school. Biometric data such as fingerprints, iris patterns and facial recognition are now so cheap and effective that they are on your smartphone.

Right to privacy

And that’s where people who are worried about privacy get antsy, as they should. There is no absolute right to privacy under Australian law – just an obligation by companies that have an annual turnover of more than $3 million to behave responsibly.

Most owners’ corporations (bodies corporate) don’t come close to that threshold, so the restrictions on their behaviour don’t apply, beyond putting up signs to warn people they are in an area that’s under video surveillance.

What’s the downside? The fingerprint you use to access your flat could go on to the database of your strata scheme and then to your building management firm and then to … well, who knows?

The video of you breaking bylaws by sunbaking naked at the poolside could end up on social media (with appropriate pixilation). As long as they don’t record your voice, the vision of you misbehaving on common property is probably fair game.

Increasing the divide

Like so many things in strata, there are double standards. We don’t want to be caught on a video camera every time we open our front door. But we do want it to record the comings and goings of the adjacent flat, which seems to be accommodating 30 overseas students in its two bedrooms.

One side effect of new access technologies will be to increase the divide between the haves and have-nots when it comes to Airbnb and other online holiday letting agencies.

Cashed-up apartment blocks will be able to install the latest biometric systems, which will effectively lock out anyone who isn’t a registered resident or a bona fide guest of someone who is.

An attack on civil liberties? Perhaps it’s just adding a drawbridge to our high-rise castles.

Jimmy Thomson edits the apartment living advice website flat-chat.com.au. Different states have different strata laws.

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