Taser’s Free Body Cameras Are Good for Cops, Not the People

An interesting re-blogged article from Wired this morning, written and argued by Jake Laperrurque that I think shows an interesting view of the world from a US perspective on privacy and law enforcement. What do you think?

THE COMPANY FORMERLY known as Taser announced last week it’s offering free body cameras to every police officer in the United States. The one-year trial is likely to dramatically increase the number of body cameras used in law enforcement across

Body Worn Camera

the country. But citizens should be skeptical. Taxpayers might not have to pay directly for the cameras, now manufactured under the name Axon, but the devices will still come with significant costs, both to police and the communities they serve, as long as rules governing the cameras’ use don’t exist.

Body cameras aren’t a cure-all for police misconduct, but they can reduce the use of force and the abuse of police powers. They’re a tool for accountability, not a magic potion to fix community-police relations, and like any tool they need to be used properly. Without effective guidelines and community input, body cameras could fall short of the goal of enhancing accountability and, instead, actually decrease trust in police.

For example, when police haven’t recorded at critical moments or have failed to disclose footage, it’s led to serious backlash. And without proper rules, deploying police body cameras en masse threatens to create a pervasive surveillance tool and turn what is supposed to be a check on police into a worrisome increase in police power.

Unfortunately, as an analysis from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Upturn shows, police departments that receive federal funding have some of the least effective policies on issues ranging from privacy to accountability to public input. Departments that get cameras at a discount appear to spend less time considering their impact on all relevant stakeholders and planning accordingly, an unsurprising but still serious development. And now that Axon has entirely eliminated the cost of body cameras, that problem will escalate.

Before police departments begin using body cameras, it’s critical that they first devote serious effort into setting guidelines that will ensure these devices serve their intended purpose, and get input from affected communities. At my organization, the Constitution Project, our Committee on Policing Reform recently released a report that reflects a consensus set of recommendations from civil liberties advocates, former law enforcement officers, and former military officers. Hopefully these suggestions can help law enforcement address some of the most pressing and difficult questions they face in implementing body camera programs.

The most fundamental question with body cameras is, when should they be recording? Studies show that in order to avoid missing events that should be recorded, it’s best to offer clean-cut rules rather than looser, discretion-based standards, and to have clear and strict policies that cameras should be on whenever officers are interacting with the public or engaged in a police action. That said, civilians should know when cameras are on and have the opportunity to opt-out. This is key both for protecting individual privacy and in supporting law enforcement investigations, where officers often speak to victims and witnesses in sensitive situations where individuals don’t want to be recorded.

Another pressing question: When should footage be available to the public? Last year, after Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by police in Charleston, South Carolina, body camera footage captured the incident, but it was withheld from the public for days, creating a backlash and intensifying the controversy. This shows that using cameras but depriving the public of access to what the cameras record can backfire and actually degrade police-community relations. Unfortunately, many states have passed problematic laws that severely curtail public access, and sometimes even limit access to the footage by the individuals on camera seeking to file a complaint.

However, while providing some public access seems essential, it’s also important to safeguard individual privacy—and that means redacting personally revealing footage unless the subject of an interaction authorizes its release. Departments not equipped to review thousands of hours of video have faced problems with commercial and spam requests, sometimes conducted for the express purpose of overwhelming departments, that in no way advance the public interest.

States like Washington are taking the lead by creating lawsthat provide access, incorporate privacy protections, and include a formal process to prevent departments from being overwhelmed by access requests. Law enforcement departments that consider adopting a body camera program—along with other state legislatures—should look to Washington’s law and strive to create a similarly balanced system.

Another question that looms large: How to effectively regulate body cameras equipped with facial recognition technology? Facial recognition may still seem like Hollywood dystopia, but Axon plans to incorporate the capability into its cameras in the near future.

There is certainly a role for facial recognition in body cameras—it’s hard to imagine objections to using such technology to locate missing children or identify truly dangerous fugitives at large. But without limitations, these combined technologies could constitute an unprecedented threat to privacy and civil liberties and could mark the end of anonymity. Unchecked, they could be used for pervasive location tracking, or for identifying and cataloging participants at religious ceremonies, political rallies, or protests. Even if such abuse does not occur, the mere threat of it could chill participation in activities fundamental to democratic society.

If facial recognition is coming to body cameras, it should come with appropriate safeguards, like requiring police to get a warrant before using it, as many experts including criminal justice scholars and former law enforcement officers have recommended. Some communities might decide that the risk isn’t worth the reward, and, as Oregon did recently, prohibit the use of facial recognition entirely.

The Axon announcement further solidifies the fact that the overarching question for body cameras is not, “should police have them?” but rather, “since police are going to have them, how should they be used?” It’s critical for both law enforcement and the communities they serve that departments, citizens, and lawmakers tackle the tough questions about body cameras and how to set effective guidelines, and that they begin doing so now.

 

Thank you Jake.

Jake Laperruque (@jakelaperruque) is senior counsel at the Constitution Projects. He previously served as a fellow for New America’s Open Technology Institute and The Center for Democracy and Technology.

A new (Wine) investment fraud has been identified!

A new investment fraud trend is targeting members of the public who are seeking to sell their wine investment.  Fraudsters agree to purchase the victim’s wine, but instead transfer the stock into their own account without paying the victim.  The fraudulently obtained wine is then believed to be sold on to other, unsuspecting victims.

How does it work?
Fraudsters set up fake companies and websites as well as exploit the names of legitimate, established companies to facilitate this fraud.  They cold-call the victims and offer to purchase their wine for significantly more than the actual market value.

Fraudulent documents, such as purchase agreements, are used to facilitate the fraud and are sent to the victims via post and email.  Some fraudsters have gone as far as setting up fake escrow services in order to fool the potential sellers that the payments have been transferred.

The fraudsters send the victims instructions to transfer their wine into storage accounts held within legitimate bonded warehouses.  The victims are informed that upon doing this they will be paid the agreed amount.  The use of storage accounts held within legitimate bonded warehouses adds an air of legitimacy to the process but in actual fact these storage accounts are controlled by the fraudsters.

Once the wine is transferred into the new storage accounts the suspects break off all contact with the victims.  The wine is then moved again, normally within days and often abroad, and, needless to say, the victim never receives the money from the agreed sale.

Protect Yourself

  • Never respond to unsolicited phone calls – if in doubt, hang up
  • Always check that the details of the organisation or company contacting you (such as website, address and phone number) are correct – the fraudsters may be masquerading as a legitimate organisation
  • Never sign over your wine (or any other investment) to another party without first checking they are authentic
  • Don’t be fooled by a professional looking website, as the cost of creating a professional website is easily affordable
  • Escrow services are regulated by the FCA under the Payment Services Directive 2009.  Only deal with a registered Authorised Payment Institution.  You can check the FCA register online at www.fca.org.uk/register
  • Consider seeking independent legal and/or financial advice before making a decision
  • If you have been affected by this, or any other scam, report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040, or visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk

Run, Hide, Tell

With thanks to the National Police Chiefs’ Council NPCC for this advice:

In the UK the Police Service and partners work very hard to keep us safe from the threat of guncrime. Firearms and weapons attacks are thankfully extremely rare, but we must always know to do stay safe. What would you do if you came under fire or heard gunshots at work or in public? Should you stay and hide, or run for the nearest exit? Would you know what to do to stay safe?

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To Dye or Not to Dye? A question of suspect identification

The question has been posed “Could security staff spray a dye onto people committing offences to enable them and by extension the police, to identify them later?”

identification?

identification?

To answer this one needs to define a number of aspects of the question.

To begin with I will assume that the incident will happen in England and Wales. I define police as someone who holds a warrant as a police constable and security staff as anyone who is employed  and is working on private property, for example as door staff.

So in answer to the question,  anyone could spray a dye onto anyone else if they had the product to hand and yes this would potentially assist in the later identification of offenders or witnesses to the incident where the dye had been deployed.

But would this be lawful? Neither the police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 nor common law have anything to say on the matter.

However for police officers there is a requirement to act proportionately, lawfully, appropriately and their action(s) must be necessary [PLAN]. There is no current legislation that covers spraying dye on offenders nor is it a tactic available to public order commanders.

For security staff again there is no legislation covering the use of dye. I argue though that they should follow the police legal requirement to ‘PLAN’. Under this and considering that the suspect(s) are on private property the following protections may apply.

If the organisers or operators specifically warn attendees that it is part of the terms and conditions of their attendance that a dye could be deployed to identify persons involved in disorder or a criminal offence.

It could be argued that this could tend to mitigate the chance of people offending or observing an offence for fear of being ‘dyed’.

However the actions of the security personnel would need to be recorded by CCTV, body cam or another official to support the PLAN decision making and the dyes use.

This would not however prevent the user of the dye from being considered for causing criminal damage or being sued under civil law for damages.

Furthermore under current Health and Safety legislation an employee and their employer have a safety responsibility towards anyone on their property which is subject to the lesser Civil Law burden of proof. How this sits with a complaint about being dyed would need to be determined.

The point is that there is no legal precedent for the use of dye to help identify suspects in a crowd whereas there is in the protection of cash in transit. The use of dye in the proposed way would have to be tested in the courts. I am certain this would lead to years of litigation and challenge all the way to the supreme court so anyone wishing to try dyeing suspects should expect to be challenged. Moreover they should check with their insurers that they will be supported. Finally they must ensure that the colorant is not deployed in a public place as this may place the user in conflict with the police. I would also be concerned for their SIA license as the authority are quick to suspend members pending the resolution of legal action.