Ownership of Body Camera Videos Trouble Police Activists

AUSTIN, Texas -- Austin Police are getting ready to use body cameras, but some say they could be giving away public property to a private company.

The city's buying cameras from Axon, which used to be known as Taser International. Axon will also store the video footage on its cloud servers, according to its contract with the city.

Part of the Terms of Use includes a clause that gives Axon irrevocable and royalty-free rights to all the video on its server. Criminal justice advocates say the public should own this video entirely--not a for-profit company.

"I don't understand why Axon or Taser would apply that--what seems like a generic contract that they use with other people--that should not apply to anything dealing with police officers and body camera footage," said Chas Moore, President of the Austin Justice Coalition.

MORE | APD June 2016 Contract with Taser International (Axon)

Moore's also concerned by reports from other police departments that use the same brand of cameras, where the video's been edited to protect the officer in question, per court testimony.

"I think it would be better off to have the city just not use a middleman," he said. "It just seems like a lot of murky, muddy water right there. The city needs to find a way to come up with the funds or resources to store this video on its own."

Moore said that video should be managed by an independent party like the Police Monitor.

Members of Austin's Public Safety Commission were not available for interviews Monday. However, some expressed their concerns over Axon's terms of use. One commissioner said they were initially concerned by the cost to pay for third party data storage. Now, they said, they're concerned by the provider's ability to potentially override open records laws.

MORE | APD Feb. 2017 Contract to Purchase Axon Cameras

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition is also concerned by Axon's terms of use.

"There is no question that body camera footage is extremely sensitive information," Executive Director Leah Pinney said. "The notion that private companies may be in a position to maintain the rights of this footage should raise significant alarms with the municipalities and police departments who contract with these companies. We would urge entities who contract with these companies to carefully review the terms of agreement to ensure there are no loopholes which would allow companies to maintain the rights to the footage."

UPDATE 

Tuesday afternoon, Axon issued the following statement:

The provision at issue in Axon’s third-party Terms of Use for Evidence.com is standard boilerplate language contained in most third-party cloud computing contracts. The provision applies solely to data containing intellectual property rights, and evidentiary data does not fall within this category. Although the provision at issue is industry standard, out of an abundance of caution, Axon has removed it from its third-party Terms of Use. Notably, this language is not included in Axon’s contracts with agency customers. Note that the language in question went live on April 25, 2017 as boiler plate language and was removed 15 days later on May 11, 2017.

Finally, while Axon offers industry leading evidence sharing services at no cost to third-parties, data can always be downloaded by agencies and shared through local storage.

Axon does not own, control or inspect evidence that is hosted on Evidence.com, rather it is owned, controlled and disseminated solely by agencies.