"Don't Tase Me, (Big) Bro!" Taser International Develops Eerie Surveillance Technology

The company has begun piloting AXON, an officer-mounted camera, to make sure cops are tasing safely. Thank goodness.

Taser International, apparently not satisfied with being the leader of the "less-lethal weapon space" (their words), is on the verge of debuting some serious new hardware.

According to a recent article in The Economist, Taser has already begun piloting AXON, a "tactical on-officer network computer" that beams video footage to a secure Web site available only to a select few. According to Big Brother Rick Smith, Taser’s boss, this site is like a "secure YouTube of global law enforcement." He claims it will serve a dual function: Create incentives for police to behave themselves, and vindicate them when they face accusations of misuse.

I have my doubts about this. Given Taser’s enormous monopoly on law enforcement across the country (14,000 out of the 18,000 agencies in the U.S. use Tasers), and given the high rate of questionable occurrences involving them (supposedly non-lethal, Tasers have killed around 400 people since 2001. Canada stopped letting its police carry them in 2008), is it cynical to think that some footage might mysteriously get “lost” by the company controlling both the weapon and the means of monitoring its use? Imagine if the “Don’t tase me, bro!” video was shot by one of those police officers. How long would it have been before the footage disappeared? Twenty seconds? Twenty-one?

There are attempts to alleviate concerns like these on Taser’s web site. In a Q&A section, one question reads: Why is Taser International Developing such a complex device? The answer:

First and foremost, having transparent accountability is of utmost concern to TASER International. When you combine our built-in accountability features with the TASER other accountability features of the TASER® X26 or the ADVANCED TASER® M26 electronic control devices you have a win-win combination. We back that claim up in light of the November 2006 IACP report that showed statistical data indicates that 96.2 percent of the time, the recording of the event exonerated the officer of the allegation or complaint. By adding the TASER AXON capability you now can capture 90 percent of law enforcement action that is missed by the in-car cameras.

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