The Los Angeles Police Department sent emails to Amazon Ring customers to gain access to doorbell footage surveilling Black Lives Matter protesters last summer, emails obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation show.
LAPD Detective Gerry Chamberlain contacted Ring customers on June 1 following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police, which sparked nationwide outrage and demonstrations, asking for footage that could aid authorities in the investigation of protesters.
The message sent by Chamberlain informed customers that sharing footage with the department was voluntary.
Chamberlain was assigned to the “Safe L.A. Task Force” created on June 2 to investigate protests against police brutality. The FBI announced it would partner with the task force to investigate “significant crimes committed during the protests and demonstrations.” It’s unclear how many individuals received the message inquiring about the footage, but Ring’s in-house law enforcement liaisons helped law enforcement use an interface that allows authorities to send bulk video requests to certain geographic areas.
“Demonstrators have a First Amendment-protected right to protest, but there is also a long history in this country, from long before the civil rights movement up through the present, of activists facing retribution and reprisals for their political participation,” explained Matthew Guariglia, a historian and surveillance policy analyst with the EFF. “This can be especially troubling, and especially chilling to political expression, when people are protesting the same institutions doing the surveillance, namely the police.”
This is the first documented evidence of law enforcement requesting footage from home surveillance devices in relation to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.
The LAPD told EEF, “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 investigators case.”
In the message, which mentioned no proven or alleged crimes, Chamberlain wrote, “The LAPD ‘Safe L.A. Task Force’ is asking for your help. During recent protests, individuals were injured & property was looted, damaged, and destroyed. In an effort to identify those responsible, we are asking you to submit copies of any video(s) you may have for [redacted].”
Records show the department sent messages regarding the footage more than once at times coinciding with major street protests in Los Angeles.
Within two hours, Chamberlain received footage from at least one user.
“Ring requests provide an unregulated avenue through which police could theoretically use a trash can being knocked over as justification for requesting footage of 12 hours of peaceful protesting,” Guariglia said.
At least 10 LAPD officers were pulled from the streets and assigned desk duty for their actions during the summer protests, pending internal investigations.