The Los Angeles Police Department requested access to Amazon Ring footage while investigating vandalism during last summer’s anti-racism and police brutality protests, according to newly released emails. The Electronic Frontier Foundation calls it the first evidence of police trying to identify protest attendees with home surveillance cameras — although it’s part of a much longer relationship between Amazon and law enforcement.
The EFF published a string of redacted emails between the LAPD and an Amazon representative. The document includes copies of several requests to Ring customers, asking for surveillance footage from their camera-equipped doorbells. Many of the forms are heavily redacted, but on June 16th, Amazon submitted a request clearly related to the protests. “During the recent protests, individuals were injured and property was looted, damaged, and destroyed,” the LAPD said in the request. It asked for video during a redacted period of time, “in an effort to identify those responsible.” At least one user appears to have sent video footage soon after.
Amazon has reportedly partnered with over 2,000 police and fire departments, which allegedly requested footage for around 22,000 total incidents in 2020. Most requests ask users to voluntarily submit video, but police can obtain footage directly through Amazon with a search warrant or court order. Police departments have also used social media and high-tech tools like facial recognition to track down protest attendees — sometimes in cases that involve clear acts of property destruction or violence, and sometimes over charges that appear inflated or retaliatory.
In a statement to the EFF, the LAPD said it is “not uncommon for investigators to ask businesses or residents if they will voluntarily share their footage with them.” However, Ring cameras let police access a far greater wealth of video recordings — making questions of privacy even more urgent.