Doorbell Recordings Are Popular And Useful To Police, But Who Is In Control Of Your Privacy?

Doorbell Recordings Are Popular And Useful To Police, But Who Is In Control Of Your Privacy?

By Terri Jo Neff |

This week’s viral doorbell videos of a UPS driver fainting outside a Scottsdale home and a squadron of javelinas tearing up a newly landscaped yard in Oro Valley are just the latest example of what homeowners, renters, and business owners might see or hear recorded on their devices.

Many of those types of videos and audio recordings are shared on social media by the device owners, while frequently other recordings are voluntarily provided to law enforcement agencies in response to reports of nearby crimes and accidents.

But who actually owns the right to video and audio recorded by Amazon-owned doorbell company Ring, and who can release those files without a search warrant or permission of the person who owns the equipment? And what if the recording captures something a bit more, um, personal and private?

Those are some of the questions being discussed as members of Congress continue to debate the proposed Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act. The debate gained some momentum last week following Ring’s admission that company employees have shared video and/or audio recordings with law enforcement agencies without notification to the device owners.

The information about Ring’s activities became public courtesy of U.S. Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts). It shows that the company receives so many requests for video and audio recordings that it has now registered nearly 2,200 law enforcement agencies to better facilitate access.

The vast majority of the releases stem from court ordered search warrants and subpoenas which are normally shared with customers. However, Ring confirmed it has made 11 videos available this year to various law enforcement agencies without advising the device’s owner. The release was based on an “emergency circumstance exception,” according to the company.

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act would set parameters for the collection, storage, use, and third-party release of facial, voice and other biometric data. It would also allow for the withholding of certain federal monies from states and local governments which do not agree to follow the Act.

“As my ongoing investigation into Amazon illustrates, it has become increasingly difficult for the public to move, assemble and converse in public without being tracked and recorded,” Markey said in a statement.

The information released by Markey’s office noted most consumers are not aware Ring’s products typically have been set by default to record. This could result in private acts and conversations being recorded without the homeowner’s knowledge. Such information is then theoretically accessible by the company to share as they wish.

“We cannot accept this as inevitable in our country,” Markey said. “Increasing law enforcement reliance on private surveillance could become central to the growing web of surveillance systems that Amazon and other powerful tech companies are responsible for.”

There are identical bills currently assigned to committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representative. Neither is co-sponsored by any of Arizona’s Congressional delegation.

Border Crisis Unabated As More Arizonans Being Arrested For Human Smuggling

Border Crisis Unabated As More Arizonans Being Arrested For Human Smuggling

By Terri Jo Neff |

The hot temperatures of June did not slow down the relentless flow of people hoping to  enter the United States along the southwest border, according to data released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

While the majority of migrants crossing through Arizona are presenting themselves at CBP-operated ports of entry, there are still a number of people willing to pay big to be smuggled across remote areas along the border and then seek transportation  to Tucson and Phoenix.  

From Oct. 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022, U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) Yuma Sector reported more than 235,000 “encounters” – a nearly 300 percent explosion compared to the same eight months the prior fiscal year. The Tucson Sector reported more than 195,000 encounters so far this fiscal year, a 40 percent uptick.

Nationally, more than 1.6 million encounters were  reported from October to June,  compared to slightly more than 1 million the prior fiscal year. Those numbers only represent persons who turn themselves in to federal authorities or are intercepted by law enforcement.

However, the data does not represent the experiences faced by law enforcement officials, residents of border communities, and business owners. Which is why USBP Yuma Sector Chief Chris Clem and Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot are offering law enforcement agencies across the country a firsthand look of the southwest border.

Last week the lawmen hosted two sheriffs from South Dakota, one day after Clem took to Twitter to announce USBP’s capture of Eloy Tecuanhuehue Hueyopa, a convicted sex offender previously removed by U.S. immigration officials. Clem noted that during his agents’ contact with Hueyopa they learned he had an extraditable warrant from the State of Indiana in a child molestation case.

And the week before, USBP agents assigned to Yuma Sector’s Wellton Station worked with a Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue (BORSTAR) unit as well as agents with CBP’s Air and Marine Operations to locate an 11-year-old boy who had been left in the rugged desert by his smuggler.

Many of those bypassing formal immigration channels are doing so in Cochise County, often wearing camouflaged clothing. Agents with USBP’s Tucson Sector are working with local, county, and state law enforcement personnel to address a growing lawlessness in the region fueled by Arizonans -mostly from Maricopa County- who come to the area to engage in human smuggling.   

Earlier this month 15-year-old Emiliano Villalobos of Phoenix was arraigned on felony charges including aggravated assault on a park ranger with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management stemming from a traffic stop just a few miles from the international border near Bisbee. A 9mm handgun and four undocumented non-U.S. citizens were found in the car Villalobos was driving.

Villalobos is being prosecuted as an adult on two aggravated assault counts and unlawful possession of a deadly weapon by a minor. He remains in the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office in lieu of a $50,000 secured appearance bond and is scheduled for an Aug. 19 pretrial conference in advance of a Dec. 5 speedy trial deadline.

Court records show Villalobos was driving a Honda Accord on June 24 when federal agents initiated a traffic stop after several people were seen getting into the vehicle shortly after 8 a.m. The Honda was traveling on a side road approaching State Route 92, a busy road which connects the Bisbee / Naco border area to Sierra Vista.

A BLM Park Ranger, identified only as T.B., maneuvered his marked government vehicle in order to block the Honda’s ability to reach SR92. As the Honda approached, the ranger exited his vehicle and drew his weapon in preparation of the traffic stop. 

The Honda initially stopped but then without warning the driver accelerated, spinning the car’s tires for nearly 20 feet in the direction of the ranger, according to a statement of probable cause authored by CCSO Deputy Marcus Gerow in support of Villalobos’ arrest.

“Ranger (T.B.) began backing up in fear of being hit by the vehicle,” Gerow wrote. “Ranger (T.B.) was about to discharge his weapon when the vehicle came to a stop.”

A search of the Honda after Villalobos and his passengers were taken into custody revealed the driver was in possession of a concealed Springfield XD 933 handgun with a full magazine and one round chambered.

The prosecution of Villalobos is just one of nearly 200 cases related to human smuggling that have been initiated by Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre since last summer. Most of the charges involve low-level felonies, but two Maricopa County residents are awaiting trial on murder charges in unrelated human smuggling incidents.

In January 2021, William Maurice Brown of Mesa on probation out of Maricopa County for felony aggravated assault when he attempted to flee from USBP agents in southern Cochise County while transporting several undocumented border crossers.

Brown drove  his pickup at highspeed through a roundabout when the vehicle flipped, leaving two migrants dead. He is charged with 15 felonies including first degree murder, endangerment, and unlawful flight.

Another defendant indicted on a murder charge is Felix Mendez, who was 16 when he drove from Maricopa County on Oct. 30, 2021 to engage in human smuggling.

Court records show Mendez failed to stop for a USBP vehicle , then drove at high speed through a redlight at an intersection with three Mexican nationals on board. A Benson woman who had the right of way was killed instantly when her vehicle was broadsided by Mendez’s car. She was heading to her birthday party, according to public records released by Homeland Security Investigations.

ACC Drafts Remedy Plan To Address 911, Service Outages In Apache And Navajo Counties

ACC Drafts Remedy Plan To Address 911, Service Outages In Apache And Navajo Counties

By Terri Jo Neff |

The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) has ordered a telecommunications company to detail its response to a 48-hour service outage last month by making an hour by hour report. At the same time, commissioners are considering a plan that could lead to the appointment of an interim manager of the troubled company.   

The directive to Frontier Communications of the White Mountains stems from yet another outage which left thousands of rural cellphone and landline phone users without service from 3 p.m. June 11 through the afternoon of June 13.

It comes on the heels of an ACC-approved plan in March which laid out the company’s strategy for responding to such outages after a study found 911 service was inaccessible by Frontier’s customers for 66 hours from April 2020 to April 2021.

Among the most vocal critics of how Connecticut-based Frontier Communications has responded to the outage issues is St. Johns Police Chief Lance Spivey. During the June outage, a 74-year-old resident died while 911 service was unavailable, Spivey said.

“We have one service provider that provides telephone and internet, and that’s Frontier,” Spivey said during testimony at a recent ACC hearing. “So if Frontier goes down, everything else goes down.” 

It is unclear whether the medical issue the resident suffered would have been fatal had prompt medical attention been available, but the police chief noted the incident was very upsetting to the two bystanders who came upon the resident as well as the emergency responders who finally responded after being flagged down to the scene.

In addition, a five-year-old girl who suffered a gruesome playground injury was forced to wait several hours for treatment while staff at her local hospital worked to establish communications with Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

The June outage also led to a lack of communication options which impacted how officials at the Salt River Project’s Coronado Generating Station near St. Johns responded to an equipment failure.

According to SRP spokesperson Erica Roelfs, employees at the coal-fired plant experienced a delay in reaching experts who needed to be conferred with. This time, Roelfs noted, the delay did not present a safety threat.

A criminal investigation is underway after Frontier reported various equipment and fiber optics lines were vandalized by two shotgun blasts at two locations across a three-mile area in Navajo County. The damage caused an outage area which covered all of Apache County as well as the majority of Navajo County.

Any decision on whether to prosecute the vandal or vandals in connection with the St. Johns resident’s death will be made once the investigation and an autopsy is complete, Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting has said. Another facet of the investigation will be Frontier’s response time to the outage, Whiting said.

A $10,000 reward has been offered and anyone with information about the vandalism should contact the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office at 928-524-4050.

The ACC’s actions earlier this year about outages in 2020 and 2021 included concerns with Frontier’s lack of progress in doing more to prevent service outages. But after the recent deadly outage in June, the St. Johns police chief wrote to the ACC, calling the company’s efforts “insufficient and inadequate.”

The chief also contended Frontier’s response to the problem is “blatantly jeopardizing” public safety.

Part of the problem appears to be a lack of a reliable outage redundancy plan to help restore service for the more than 330,000 customers whose service relies on Frontier’s lines. Another issue is that repair crews often have to drive several hours to locate the cause of an outage.

The company issued a statement after the June outage stating that company officials were willing to discuss its network redundancy with regulators in the future. Members of the ACC did not wait.

At a June 28 hearing, several people impacted by the outage were able to testify at an ACC meeting.  Kevin Saville, general legal counsel for Frontier, assured commissioners the June outage was not due to a network failure.

“This was at a minimum vandalism and even potentially sabotage,” Saville said.  

However, some of the company’s previous comments about the June outage came under attack, including a claim that Frontier’s customers lost 911 access for only one hour and three minutes while crews repaired the line.

Frontier’s statement about the short outage was misleading, according to St. Johns Assistant Fire Chief Jason Kirk, because most of the area receives its telecommunications service from other providers such as AT&T and Verizon who rely on Frontier’s equipment.

Kirk testified to the ACC that tens of thousands of citizens “were separated from communications and data for almost two days” and that everything from gas pumps, grocery stores and other facilities were “rendered useless because of the unavailability of the fiber connection.”

During the June 28 hearing, a Frontier manager gave commissioners an overview of how the company responded to the outage. However, that was not good enough for the ACC.

Commissioner Sandra Kennedy noted local officials were upset by Frontier’s attitude in responding to the June outage. She called for a more detailed report of the company’s response.  

“That is my concern, for an hour-by-hour recap on what the company did. We may not regulate internet, but by gosh, we’re going to try to help the folks out who need our help who are complaining about your company,” Kennedy told Frontier officials.

That June hearing led to the July 8 town hall at which community members were allowed to share their experiences about Frontier. Among those who addressed the three ACC members in attendance was Navajo County Sheriff David Clouse.

As a result of the community input, Frontier Communications was formally directed to respond to the ACC about each of the comments made. The company expects to comply this week.

In the meantime, the ACC revisited its earlier outage investigation into the four Frontier companies which operate in Arizona. During discussions on July 12 and 13, the commissioners drafted and edited a Remedy Plan to address eight issues.

One of the drafts includes a clause allowing the ACC to appoint an interim manager of the local Frontier “for the convenience, comfort, and safety, and the preservation of the health, of the customers and member of the public in Apache and Navajo Counties.” The ACC website does not yet list the next meeting date at which a Frontier Remedy Plan will be discussed. In a related matter, the ACC is considering an October 2021 application by the four Frontier companies operating in Arizona to classify and regulate retail local exchange telecommunications services as competitive, and to classify and deregulate certain services as non-essential. The ACC will continue to accept public comments on the application through the end of the year.

Small Business Report Draws Attention To Lack Of Optimism

Small Business Report Draws Attention To Lack Of Optimism

By Terri Jo Neff |

The number of small business owners across America who expect business conditions to improve over the next six months dropped considerably in June, hitting the lowest level in the 48 years the National Federation of Independent Business has conducted the survey.

That was the dismal news released Tuesday by Chad Heinrich, NFIB’s state director for Arizona.

“With small-business-owner expectations dimming to a record low, it becomes even more important that we have state leaders focused on ways to improve business conditions for the small-business owner,” Heinrich said. “All Arizonans have benefited from state legislative and executive leaders who have adopted pro-small-business policies year-after-year.”

Heinrich’s statement drew attention to the NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index for June which showed a drop for the sixth consecutive month. That means the expectations of small business owners for better conditions have worsened every month of 2022.

NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg also addressed the pessimistic news revealed by the Small Business Optimism Index.

“On top of the immediate challenges facing small business owners including inflation and worker shortages, the outlook for economic policy is not encouraging either as policy talks have shifted to tax increases and more regulations,” Dunkelberg said.
 
Among the key findings in Tuesday’s report is that 50 percent of small business owners reported job openings that could not be filled, a historically “very high” rating. Of those hiring or trying to hire, 94 percent reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill.

Even one bit of good news in Tuesday’s report wasn’t all that positive. According to NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index, the net percent of owners raising their average selling prices decreased three points. However, the decrease comes after May’s record high reporting of price increases.

Heinrich advised that Arizonans cannot rest on the successes that have kept the state at or near the top of post-pandemic economic gains.

“We must continue to support leaders who understand that most new jobs are created by small business owners,” he said. “Small businesses drive the Arizona economy forward.”

The NFIB Research Center has collected Small Business Economic Trends data with quarterly surveys since the 4th quarter of 1973 and monthly surveys since 1986. Survey respondents are randomly drawn from NFIB’s membership.

County Attorney Candidate Retracts Incorrect Statement About Early Voting

County Attorney Candidate Retracts Incorrect Statement About Early Voting

By Terri Jo Neff |

A candidate for Maricopa County Attorney has retracted a comment she made last week which provided incorrect information that could lead to voter confusion during the current 2022 primary election.

Gina Godbehere is running on the Aug. 2 Republican primary election ballot against interim County Attorney Rachel Mitchell. And with Maricopa County’s election process under intense scrutiny since late 2020, voters cannot be blamed for presuming candidates have taken the time to get a good grasp on election procedures.

But Godbehere, an attorney and former prosecutor, raised eyebrows July 7 with a campaign newsletter which included a “note of caution” to voters on the county’s Active Early Voting List (AEVL).

The AEVL allows voters to receive their primary ballot by mail. Once completed, the ballot can be returned by postage-prepaid mail, placement in an official drop box, hand delivery to the county recorder’s office, or dropping it off at one Maricopa County’s 200+ voting centers.

The completed ballots must be received by the county recorder by 7 p.m. on Aug. 2, regardless of which return option is chosen.  

Godbehere’s newsletter, however, incorrectly described what happens if a voter waits until Aug. 2 “to walk your early ballot into a voting center” and drop it off in a ballot box. In that situation, Godbehere claimed AEVL voters will have their ballot deemed “provisional” which she said meant the ballot would be “counted last” 7 to 10 days after the election.

Various election officials told AZ Free News there is nothing in Arizona law or the state’s Elections Procedures Manual referring to any dropped off ballot as provisional. In fact, the term provisional only applies to ballots cast in-person under specific circumstances.

On Monday, Godbehere’s campaign issued a statement admitting the mistake.

“These ballots are not provisional, but regular ballots,” the statement reads. “We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.”

Maricopa County voters with questions about the election process can call 602-506-1511 or email voterinfo@risc.maricopa.gov

Godbehere and Mitchell are vying to be the Republican who takes on Democrat Julie Gunnigle in a Nov. 8 special election to serve out the remainder of former County Attorney Allister Adel’s term through the end of 2024.

Adel resigned under pressure in March and died the next month.