Los Angeles police tried to get Ring doorbell footage surveilling Black Lives Matter protests

Protesters sit at an intersection in West Hollywood during demonstrations following the death of George Floyd on May 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Warrick Page/Getty Images
  • Los Angeles police sought surveillance footage from Amazon Ring customers during BLM protests.
  • Emails seeking the footage were reportedly obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  • Hundreds of people have been charged with federal crimes in connection with the protests.
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During nationwide Black Lives Matter protests last summer, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) sought footage related to the demonstrations captured by Amazon Ring doorbell cameras, according to emails obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

In emails to Ring customers, made public by the EFF, LAPD Detective Gerry Chamberlain asked for footage that might help the department investigate alleged incidents during the protests, which were sparked by the May 25 police killing of George Floyd. The note from Chamberlain was sent to Ring users by the Amazon-owned company and told customers that sharing footage from the protests with the LAPD was voluntary.

The news, which was first reported Tuesday by Sam Biddle of The Intercept, poses questions about privacy and policing, and is just the latest instance in which police have attempted to surveil the public via Ring products.

When reached for comment, the public information officer for the LAPD directed Insider to submit a public records request for more information. In a statement provided to the EFF, a non-profit digital rights organisation, the LAPD said its SAFE LA Task Force — a group meant to investigate crimes that took place during the protests in LA — “used several methods in an attempt to identify those involved in criminal behaviour. One of the methods was surveillance footage.”

The LAPD statement highlighted that US police departments frequently seek footage from private citizens to use in their investigations. “It is not uncommon for investigators to ask businesses or residents if they will voluntarily share their footage with them. Often, surveillance footage is the most valuable piece in an investigator’s case,” the statement said.

There are now more than 2,000 government agencies using Ring and Neighbours, an associated Amazon app, in the pursuit of surveillance footage, according to the EFF. A 2019 Motherboard investigation found that Ring had been teaching police forces across the US how to best encourage its customers to share their surveillance footage.

Footage, photos, social-media posts, and cell phone data were also used by police forces to identify protesters throughout the Black Lives Matter protests last summer. The Department of Justice said in September that more than 300 people were charged with federal crimes “committed adjacent to or under the guise of peaceful demonstrations” since May 2020.

Jason Nurse, an assistant professor of cybersecurity at the University of Kent, and Anjuli R. K. Shere, a cybersecurity doctoral researcher at the University of Oxford, wrote in an article published by The Conversation in July 2020, “This issue reminds us that technology is never neutral, particularly when people exercising their right to protest have their data used against them.”