Monday, July 23, 2018
   
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Axon to the Rescue

Should a taser company control children’s public records?

body-camera

In what is clearly an abrogation of civil liberties, California has apparently outsourced its prosecutors’ obligation to maintain files to Axon Corp. Axon was formerly named Taser International.  It has expanded its business beyond tasers to include police body cameras and a data collection service through its subsidiary, evidence.com.

In some districts in California, police reports and certain other files that MUST (under the sixth Amendment) be made available to the defense, can ONLY be obtained through evidence.com. This story has been reported on legal blogs, and was, as far as I can tell, first reported by Rick Horowitz, a well-respected California criminal defense lawyer. Mr. Horowitz was forced into making an untenable decision for his client, a juvenile.

The client, although entitled to discovery of the prosecution’s important evidence, could only obtain his records through evidence.com's website. That website requires the client or his lawyer to agree to abide by Axon’s terms of use that allow disclosure of the client’s information for various limited but somewhat vague purposes, including Axon’s own defense.  Mr. Horowitz refused to do so, primarily because he was not assured that his client’s privacy rights as a juvenile would be maintained.  His rationale can be found here.

I agree with Mr. Horowitz in principle, but his decision was harder than it seems.  He had to weigh his client’s right to privacy as a juvenile against the client’s right to be fully represented at trial, and Mr. Horowitz had to decide in the best interests of his client. Will his client now remain in jail? How did we get here?

Complaints have been filed that allege that Axon has given police too much freedom to edit film from body cameras. Their market is, after all, to law enforcement. It does not take much imagination to envision a situation in which a citizen might sue Axon for its taser, for edited body camera film or for release of data. But wait, Axon controls the available data.

The United States is, at least in theory, a capitalist country. But haw many government functions do we want to privatize? Do we really want a company to profit from the records of juvenile defendants? And when do the taxpayers get consulted, or even informed of such changes?  These are large issues, and California has shown, that in this instance, privatization came in stealthily and at the cost of the somewhat precarious legal protections given to children.


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