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Calling out corruption from the FBI to Taser Corp.

News outlets covering the FBI and corporate weapons contractors quoted me this month, in stories about the FBI attempting to evade federal privacy law, and about Taser Corp. unleashing new havoc on a criminal "justice" system already pervaded by systemic bias.

On September 21, the Intercept ran a story about a new effort by Taser Corp. to expand evidence available to law enforcement agencies through crowdsourcing. It included:

"When police body cameras were initially established, it was because citizens were clamoring for police accountability,” explained Shahid Buttar, director of grassroots advocacy with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “But we’ve seen how cameras have been more useful for police investigations than for accountability. This product realizes those dangers and takes them to a new dystopian level by crowdsourcing the collection of evidence and turning it over to law enforcement.”

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“There have been many cases where private corporations have leveraged databases not to improve safety but to extract rent from already impoverished communities,” he said. For instance, Vigilant Solutions, the company manufacturing automatic license plate readers, collects a service fee when departments use its technology to identify and ticket flagged plates. “Those kinds of abuses are likely to recur here.”

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Judging from prior uses of body camera footage, Buttar is not hopeful that citizens uploading videos to the Public Evidence Product’s platform will lead to more accountability. Reports have shown that police break, lose, switch off, or fail to activate the cameras; departments have tampered with or withheld their footage. “When police have evidence of law enforcement abuses, they have a history of not acting on it,” he said, adding that defense attorneys already have difficulty gaining access to exculpatory footage. “To the extent that members of a community are concerned about crime, they are often concerned about those with badges [committing it]. It’s those videos that need to find their ways into independent repositories controlled by civil rights groups — and not law enforcement agencies — if it’s ever going to see the light of day.”

A few days earlier, On September 18, Naked Security reported on an FBI program called "Insider Threat," through which the Justice Department collects expansive information from federal employees and contractors to prevent whistleblowing, while flaunting requirements imposed by the federal Privacy Act. After explaining that "The relatively unbounded information that DOJ seeks for the Insider Threat system is not only overbroad, but also creates unnecessary security risks given its tremendous sensitivity," I went on to say:

The Insider Threat program is itself a threat to the national security of the United States, by insulating from public accountability executive agencies that have repeatedly violated their constitutional and statutory limits. Whistleblowers are conscientious public servants who advance the public interest by revealing fraud, waste, and abuse. They are heroes, not threats.

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