An organization that campaigns for privacy is raising concerns about a new rental housing industry move that involves installing “smart” locks on units.
It’s because those locks, often connected to the internet and opened with a key card signal or smart phone, “allow the lock company (and sometimes landlords) to collect data each time you or any of your guests unlock your physical door.”
The warning continued, “Depending on the model, the lock might also record other data – like an image of the person trying to unlock the door.”
It is the Electronic Frontier Foundation that has posted online a statement calling for such units to be regulated because of the invasion of privacy they offer.
“The growing deployment of smart locks in apartments, often installed without tenants’ permission, has created a new stream of sensitive location data for law enforcement, landlords, and private companies. Tenants should not be forced to submit to tracking just to enter their home. At minimum, we need privacy laws that require consent to collect this data, a warrant for police access, and strong data minimization,” the report said.
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The issue already has made its way into court with a 2019 fight brought by New York City tenants who forced a settlement after a landlord tried to install the technology.
“The settlement required an option for physical keys,” the report said.
The statement said, “This data [collected by the locks] could give law enforcement a powerful new stream of data to be obtained without your knowledge. Companies tend to store this kind of data for much longer than necessary, and it is often unclear precisely what legal process companies require before handing it over to law enforcement. This gives police a tool to obtain a near perfect log of every time you or any guest entered your home – a particularly private place under the Fourth Amendment.”
Harassment by landlords also becomes a possibility, EFF said.
“Landlords seeking to evict a rent-controlled or otherwise unwanted tenant could use this data to find minor lease violations, like having a guest stay an hour longer than allowed by policy. Or the smart lock could be used to quickly lock out a tenant without notice,” EFF explained.
Then, too, collected data could be sold – or hacked.
“Today, traditional door locks can be picked, and home windows can be smashed to gain entry. However, the scale of a smart lock hack could increase the potential for harm. One can imagine a nightmare scenario of a ransomware group locking an entire apartment building out of their homes until the landlord pays a hefty sum,” EFF reported.
Solutions the EFF offered would include an option for a traditional lock, consent for any acquisition of data, which should then be minimized, and a ban on releasing information to law enforcement without a warrant.
It noted, “People must have a private right of action to sue the corporations or landlords that violate their statutory privacy rights. Remedies must include liquidated damages, injunctive and declaratory relief, and attorney fees.”
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