Emails obtained from the Los Angeles Police Department show that the department sought protest-related footage from Amazon’s Ring home camera systems in the wake of George Floyd’s killing last year, lending validity to years of warnings that far-reaching private surveillance networks will enable questionable police practices, reports The Intercept. On July 16, 2020, footage was sought by a detective assigned to an LAPD task force dedicated to investigating any crimes that may have been committed during the protests and demonstrations. Emails released at the same time by the department show that Ring’s in-house law enforcement liaisons were helping officers use an interface that would allow them to send bulk video requests to specific neighborhoods or broader geographic areas. It’s unclear what data, if any, was turned over to the task force as a result of the protest related Ring request, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation says that it believes the message is the first evidence of police using Ring’s increasingly ubiquitous camera network to surveil last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.
Ring has grown increasingly close with law enforcement organizations around the country, providing them with a data portal allowing access to the enormous volume of residential surveillance footage generated by customers’ cameras. It’s unclear how wide an array of footage the LAPD was requesting, leaving open the possibility that even if an actual crime had been committed in view of a camera, footage of unrelated people merely exercising their First Amendment rights in public could have also been turned over to the LAPD. Policies guiding how long cops can retain privately obtained data like Ring videos — and what they can do once it lands on their hard drives — are rare and typically weak. Privacy advocates and civil libertarians say the company is blurring an already vague line between public and private surveillance by providing police with a network of thousands of constantly active cameras easily accessible through the Internet. A 2019 report by Motherboard showed that Ring coaches police departments on how best to cajole the company’s customers into voluntarily sharing their surveillance videos.