If you have a doorbell, may your local police department ask you for help monitoring protests?
According to a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, documents recently obtained from the Los Angeles Police Department show that law enforcement officers attempted to obtain footage from Ring devices to identify participants in protests against Black Lives Matter that took place last summer.
“The Los Angeles Police Department is asking for your help” is the subject line of emails sent to Ring users from firstname.lastname@example.org, an official email address for the company that makes the home surveillance equipment.
EFF, a digital rights advocacy group, received the LAPD’s emails to a number of ring users after submitting a public request for information.
In an example received from the EFF, a LAPD official received footage from a user no later than two hours after sending the email request on June 1, 2020, “the morning after one of the biggest protests of last summer in Los Angeles”.
The EFF says that important details like the date, time and even the purpose of the requests will be edited in the documents sent to them. An email sent in late May during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by police following the murder of George Floyd contained a request for footage related to “the recent protests”.
The LAPD has a partnership with Ring and its app Neighbors, which helps educate residents about local crime in their area. The purpose of the technology is to combat robbery, car theft, and other criminal activity, and not to assist the police in monitoring activities protected by the first change.
“Technologies like Ring have the potential to provide the police with video footage that covers almost 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 rights to political speech, protest and rally if they know that the police can acquire and keep recordings of them. This carries the risk of retaliation or reprisals, especially in protests against police violence. “
Ring, which makes popular video doorbells and security camera devices, is owned by Amazon.
Amazon has long been criticized by data protection officers and criminal justice experts for its facial recognition technology, Rekognition. For example, an ACLU study found that Amazon’s facial recognition was inaccurate and couldn’t even identify members of Congress. However, Amazon worked with law enforcement agencies to take advantage of it.
Earlier this month, Amazon announced that its founder Jeff Bezos would step down as CEO. He is slated to be replaced by Andy Jassy, who is currently head of Amazon Web Services.
This is particularly noteworthy in light of the EFF report and Jassy’s earlier remarks on the company’s facial recognition technology. In a 2019 interview with PBS ‘Frontline, Jassy said, “Let’s see if they’re abusing the technology in any way. They didn’t, and assuming they will, and therefore shouldn’t allow them access to the most advanced technology out there, doesn’t feel like the right balance to me. “
The EFF has now discovered that one of the country’s largest police forces has attempted to use Amazon’s consumer surveillance technology to identify participants in protests against Black Lives Matter. The potential for law enforcement abuse of Amazon technology doesn’t seem like a big assumption anymore.
If you’re a Ring user who has received one of these law enforcement emails and would like to share it with us, please email the author of this article at email@example.com.