If you have a Ring doorbell, your local police department may request your help in…surveilling protests?
According to , recently obtained from the Los Angeles Police Department show that law enforcement officials attempted to obtain footage from Ring devices in order to identify participants in Black Lives Matter protests that occurred last summer.
“The Los Angeles Police Department is requesting your help” reads the subject line of the emails sent to Ring users from “,” an official email address associated with the company that makes the home surveillance devices.
The EFF, a digital rights advocacy group, received the LAPD’s emails to a number of Ring users after submitting a public information request.
In one example obtained by the EFF, an LAPD official received footage from a user no more than two hours after sending the email request on June 1, 2020, “the morning after one of the largest protests of last summer in Los Angeles.”
The EFF says that important details, such as dates, times, and even the purpose of the requests, are redacted in the documents sent to them. One email sent at the end of May, during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests that were sparked after the police killing of George Floyd, included a request for footage relating to “the recent protests.”
The LAPD has a partnership with Ring and its app Neighbors, which helps inform residents of local crime in their area. The purpose of the technology is to help crackdown on robberies, car thefts, and other criminal activity, not aid the police in monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment.
“Technologies like Ring have the potential to provide the police with video footage covering nearly every inch of an entire neighborhood,” says the EFF in its report. “This poses an incredible risk to First Amendment rights. People are less likely to exercise their right to political speech, protest, and assembly if they know that police can acquire and retain footage of them. This creates risks of retribution or reprisal, especially at protests against police violence.”
Ring, which makes popular video doorbells and security camera devices, is owned by Amazon.
Amazon has long been by privacy advocates and criminal justice experts for its facial recognition technology known as . An , for example, found that Amazon’s facial recognition was inaccurate and couldn’t even identify members of Congress. Yet, Amazon was partnering with law enforcement agencies to use it.
This is especially notable in light of the EFF report and Jassy’s previous remarks on the company’s facial recognition technology. In a 2019 interview with PBS Frontline, Jassy said, “Let’s see if somehow they abuse the technology. They haven’t done that, and to assume that they’re going to do it and therefore you shouldn’t allow them to have access to the most sophisticated technology out there doesn’t feel like the right balance to me.”
The EFF has now found that one of the country’s largest police departments attempted to use Amazon’s consumer surveillance technology to identify participants in Black Lives Matter protests. The potential for abuse of Amazon’s technologies by law enforcement no longer seems like much of an assumption.
If you are a Ring user who has received one of these law enforcement emails and would like to share it with us, email the author of this piece at firstname.lastname@example.org.