Monday, October 17, 2022

Keep chokepoint capitalism out of our justice system

RNZ this morning has a significnat story about the police's plans to shift all their criminal case evidence into a cloud service owned by predatory US provider Axon:

Police are looking to a hugely profitable US taser maker for new ways to capture sensitive criminal case evidence and store it overseas.

They are also considering getting new stun guns, and possibly body cameras, from the $9 billion Axon corporation.

OIA documents show Axon is in the mix for storing all sorts of crime scene footage and "very sensitive" interviews, including on sex crimes, because existing systems are on their last legs.

In a 2020 report, police said: "The expectation ... [is] that all of our electronic interviewing will transition to over the next 18 months - two years."

There are all sorts of reasons why this is a bad idea. The one that immediately sprang to mind was mentioned briefly in a Newsroom article on police camera footage last year: at present, defence lawyers can only view taser footage (or e.g. their clients being tasered, and the interactions that led up to it) in-person at a police station - where Axon tracks everything what they do (and presumably data-mines it and sells the intel back to NZ police prosecutors). So the police are basicly proposing to extend that practice to... everything. The threats to legal privilege (and of course to the right to an effective defence, if police strategicly choose to underfund or pass on charges for access) ought to be obvious.

But there's another reason to dislike it: because Axon's business model is pure chokepoint capitalism. They use predatory pricing and freebie deals to entice police forces into using them, then once their data is migrated, use the threat of cutting off access (requiring expensive migration or total data loss) to continuously hike the price. The copyright industry uses this model to extort producers and lock-in customers; here, Axon is using it to extort and lock-in governments. The beauty (for Axon) is that as evidence storage is a requirement for successful prosecution (and criminal disclosure legally required in all civilised states), the government effectively helps enforce their lock-in. The police simply cannot risk the service interruption of dropping the service or migrating the data, because it would mean cases collapsing and/or criticism from judges. And of course it creates a risk that some billionaire will decide to collapse our court system because someone said something nasty about them on Twitter.

We should not allow this pernicious business model to infect our justice system. The New Zealand police should store digital evidence themselves, in New Zealand, under New Zealand law. It is that simple.