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Axon hopes you'll submit smartphone video as evidence

It's raising concerns about privatizing the justice system.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
September 24, 2017
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Reuters/Mark Makela

In theory, handing your smartphone video over to the police if you have evidence of a crime is the right thing to do -- it provides accountability and could be the key to a conviction. However, those contributions are about to enter a gray area. Axon (the brand formerly known as Taser) has confirmed that it's working on a "Public Evidence Product" that would let you submit photos and videos to Evidence.com, its cloud platform normally used for police footage. That doesn't sound so bad on the surface, but the handling and potential motivations are raising concerns that this amounts to excessive privatization of the justice system.

Axon maintains that it doesn't own or watch footage, which instead goes directly to the department. However, civil rights advocates are concerned that it might still use the shots for profit, or for things other than the direct case at hand (such as building biometric databases). And what happens if the footage concerns police abuses. Shouldn't it go to an independent body? Even if Axon lives up to its promise not to watch footage, it's not going to be completely neutral ground.

There's also the question of whether or not it's wise to encourage crowdsourcing for criminal evidence. Axon says its effort isn't a "fishing expedition," so your neighbor can't use this to snitch on your littering habit. This is aimed at specific crimes where there's already a case. However, there's a worry that this may spur people to take unnecessary risks, such as doing things that expose them to immediate danger or intimidation. This could help police land convictions they might not otherwise get, but there are plenty of opportunities for unintended consequences.

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