Axon, the company formerly known as Taser, announced that it would give free body cameras and one year of online video storage to any department in the United States for one year. This seems like a phenomenal deal but there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. The deal is meant to make Axon money and to please its biggest customers, the police:
But isn’t just video. Police agencies and local governments are using Evidence.com to store other evidence, too. Defense attorney Rick Horowitz recently put up a post about how in order to access discovery in a case, the district attorney told him to log on to the website. And in order to log on, Horowitz had to sign this user agreement:
You consent to Axon’s access and use of the Account Content in order to….improve Axon’s Products and Services. In addition, for content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP Content”), you specifically give us the following permission: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, irrevocable, royalty-free, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use any IP Content that you post on or in connection with the Services (IP License).
Second, this isn’t just any public record. We’re talking about evidence in criminal investigations. To have that evidence stored on servers owned by a private company creates some bad incentives. The company’s primary client isn’t the public; it’s the police agency. And it’s primary interest isn’t just outcomes in courtrooms; it’s keeping the client happy. For example, the company might win favor with police agencies — for example, allowing officers to take certain liberties with body camera video in a way that keeps the courts or opposing attorneys in the dark.
Body cameras were sold as a tool for police accountability but it has become clear that they were meant to collect evidence that the State can use to prosecute more individuals. Axon’s primary customer is the State and therefore it is incentivized to help the State use body cameras to collect evidence against individuals while not allowing the footage to be used to hold police accountable.
People often wonder why the State empowered corporations so much. At one point I thought it was primarily a protection racket, the State offers corporations extra legal privileges in exchange for money. But now I’m starting to think that the primary purpose was so the State could conceal its dirty laundry from the public by hiding behind the shield of the private sector. Remember, the State has given you permission to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request against it but not against a private entity. So long as it can give a corporation the job of hiding information the State can rightfully say that it has no information pertaining to your FOIA request.