LAPD Asked Ring Users To Turn Over Footage Of Anti-Police Brutality Protests

from the I'm-pretty-sure-we-can-said-people-who-never-wondered-if-they-SHOULD dept

It's not just a home surveillance system. It's a surveillance system.

Documents obtained by the EFF and shared with The Intercept show law enforcement used footage from Ring doorbell cameras -- cameras some people have obtained for free from Ring's thousands of law enforcement "partners" -- to hunt down people protesting police violence.

The documents show the Los Angeles Police Department sent requests to Los Angeles residents asking them for footage recorded by their cameras. But the LAPD did not specify what sort of footage it was looking for. The task force making the request was charged with investigating crimes committed "during protests and demonstrations."

This information was vaguely conveyed to Ring owners in the area. The requests didn't even bother to specify whether the "incident" the LAPD was investigating could even have been captured by the doorbell cameras targeted by this request.

"The LAPD ‘Safe L.A. Task Force’ is asking for your help,” reads the message, from detective Gerry Chamberlain. “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].” The request appears to have made no mention of what exactly the LAPD was pursuing; no crime, proven or alleged, is described in the unredacted portion of the request, only that the police wanted footage of an unspecified “incident” related to a protest. The redacted portion of the request does not appear to contain any substantive further description.

This was not the only message sent. The documents show the LAPD made additional requests following other demonstrations, in essence asking Los Angeles residents to rat out people engaged (for the most part) in peaceful protests. The task force wasn't asking for any info about specific crimes, but rather anything that showed people doing stuff that (again, for the most part) was protected by the First Amendment.

And there wasn't a lot of criminal activity. At least, not so much the LAPD should have felt comfortable sending out blanket requests for footage from cameras owned by private citizens.

In October, the Los Angeles Times cited LAPD data showing that the “vast majority” of the city’s Black Lives Matter rallies, part of a national wave of outraged mobilization following the police killing of Floyd, were peaceful, with only “between 6% and 7%” of protests resulting in any violence, including violence perpetrated by the LAPD itself.

But Ring has made aggressive inroads with thousands of law enforcement "partners." And it has provided them with instructions for requests like these -- ones that evade warrant or subpoena requirements.

On the plus side, the requests make any handover of footage completely voluntary. Bear in mind that law enforcement "requests" for footage are perceived by citizens as being far less voluntary than law enforcement perceives them to be. But the bottom line is these are requests, not demands. Even so, the LAPD would rather not answer questions about its mass emails or their efficiency rate.

And that's a problem Ring doesn't have an answer for. Indeed, it's an answer Ring doesn't even appear to care about. Ring likes cops. The people actually buying and/or deploying its cameras appear to be far down the list of things Ring cares about. As far as Ring is concerned, the market it has cornered is little more than an extension of existing government surveillance networks. If it did care about its users, it would have done more to protect them from malicious hackers and law enforcement officers who can't be bothered to boilerplate up a warrant affidavit.

Even if you decide the First Amendment question isn't settled enough to give Los Angeles residents pause when handing over footage to cops, the mutual appreciation society formed by Ring and law enforcement cuts private citizens out of the equation. It turns their cameras into cop cameras.

Sure, people may retain control of the devices and ignore emailed requests for footage, but Ring is doing all it can to erase the line between public and private. It allows law enforcement agencies to give cameras to citizens, increasing the chance the recipients of these freebies will be receptive law enforcement requests. It gives cops a portal that shows them where cameras are located, giving the government information it wouldn't have under other circumstances. Finally, Ring inserts itself into the PR process, giving itself final approval on press statements from law enforcement that involve its products, allowing it to craft a more self-serving narrative.

There's no indication this effort was limited to areas where criminal activity during protests was suspected. Instead, the portal provided by Ring made it possible for the LAPD to ask for private citizens' inadvertent recordings of protected speech. This is secondhand surveillance. And its encroachment into our everyday lives should be greeted with suspicion. This is an opportunistic approach to law enforcement, one that embraces mission creep.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: black lives matter, iot, lapd, protests, ring, surveillance


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 22 Feb 2021 @ 12:48pm

    Perhaps there is an LAPD email address we can send videos of police beating up journalists? Or will they bust me for sending LEO porn?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 22 Feb 2021 @ 12:49pm

    'If the video helps us good, if not oops, camera malfunction.'

    Given the usual police stance towards body-cams in the US I think it's fairly safe to assume that any requests for footage is purely in the police's interests, not necessarily the public's.

    If they want the video it's because they think it will help them, and if it helps others then that's purely by coincidence, something that is supported by the vague nature of the 'requests' as if they had a good idea of what they were looking for and thought the public would approve they'd have had no problem providing details.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 22 Feb 2021 @ 12:58pm

    As a brit, I spent much of the past twenty years being told by Americans about how much of a surveillance state my country is because of all the cameras. Roll on a decade or two and many of those people are happily fitting cameras to their doors that they have minimal control over and creating an even more insidious system, giving the police free access to their comings and goings.

    It's amazing how much freedom people will willingly give up for the latest gadget on the internet of things.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 22 Feb 2021 @ 11:47pm

      Re:

      "As a brit, I spent much of the past twenty years being told by Americans about how much of a surveillance state my country is because of all the cameras"

      There's a misconception which was based on a study which looked at a single street in London, then extrapolated figures out to the rest of the country. I don't think that anyone in the UK needs to put any thought into how dumb that is. Then, it was misreported as if all the private security cameras on shops, pubs, nightclubs, etc. were government surveillance. Anyone who quotes that has just told you that they don't know what they're talking about.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2021 @ 1:22pm

    I'm surprised they asked.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tom, 22 Feb 2021 @ 2:22pm

    Title is ambiguous

    "LAPD Asked Ring Users To Turn Over Footage Of Protests Against Police Brutality" FTFY

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2021 @ 8:22pm

    I would have turned over that footage without a court order. Anti-police protesters is an oxymoron.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 22 Feb 2021 @ 11:43pm

      Re:

      Brownshirts are nothing new, but it's nice when you identify yourself.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2021 @ 1:15am

      Re:

      "Anti-police protesters is an oxymoron"

      Please explain.

      Given that oxymoron refers to .. a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.

      • example: military intelligence, jumbo shrimp

      How does protesting contradict anti-police?
      I do not think it is an oxymoron.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 23 Feb 2021 @ 4:41pm

        Anti-police protesting

        There is an argument to be had that anti-police protesting is redundant.

        Typically all protests are petitioning the state for grievances, and the police are the customer-service subdivision of the state.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    me, 23 Feb 2021 @ 4:47am

    Give it time

    They'll get a backdoor before too long and just take the footage without asking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 23 Feb 2021 @ 7:37am

    Clickbait now?

    This is some righteous clickbait. Holy F, what a sh**load of yellow "journalism". Just admit you have a hardon for Ring and will publish any exaggeration or lie to further your agenda against them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2021 @ 11:28am

      Re: Clickbait now?

      "will publish any exaggeration or lie to further your agenda against them"

      I am interested in this exaggeration but I find the lie to be more compelling. Please continue with details.

      *"This is some righteous clickbait. Holy F, what a sh*load of yellow "journalism"."

      Calm down, don't want to hyperventilate.

      yellow journalism

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.