This is the first of two stories about police increasingly working with US Taser manufacturer Axon to collect, analyze and store evidence, interviews and other footage overseas.
Police are turning to a hugely profitable American Taser maker to find new ways to capture sensitive criminal evidence and store it overseas.
They are also considering getting new stun guns, and possibly body cameras, from the $9 billion company Axon.
The OIA documents show that Axon is storing all sorts of “highly sensitive” crime scene and interview footage, including sex crimes, because existing systems are stretched thin.
In a 2020 report, police said: “The wait… [is] that all of our electronic interviews will transition to evidence.com over the next 18 months – two years.”
of Axon evidence.com storage system has an online login page with a great announcement for the latest license plate tracking camera.
Police are refusing to release key information about their plans, such as cost and contract.
Their deep partnership with the American firm has remained largely confidential and without public input, except for certain lawyers.
The Axon share price has increased by 400% in five years as it becomes more and more integrated into global law enforcement. It has nearly a million body cameras used by US police.
Defense lawyers in Auckland and Wellington complained that they had to agree to Axon’s terms and fall under US jurisdiction to access evidence.
They forced a change of terms and conditions in 2019 – RNZ contacted the Auckland lawyer behind this but she refused to talk.
Axon courted controversy in the United States over want to put tasers on drones.
There, he courted senior police officers: six of them have made all-expenses-paid trips by Axon to the United States, and one to Australia, since 2016, says the OIA.
The 132-page OIA response shows New Zealand following a similar path overseas, where Axon typically bundles tasers with body cameras as well as data storage to make discount offers, for example in Margate, United States.
In New Zealand, Axon sells the hardware to the police, licenses the software to them, and then leases them the cloud storage.
“Storage…is a key logistical issue,” said a 2021 review of tasers with cameras versus tasers with body cameras, first published here.
The review said police should be very careful about buying their new Tasers and separate body cameras.
In the United States in 2017, Axon offered a free body camera for “every police officer” – as long as they signed up for cloud storage.
The New Zealand Police Association noted a year ago that some US departments have phased out body cameras due to rising data storage costs. Baltimore’s storage bill quadrupled between 2016 and 2020, to $50 million.
Here, Axon offered the police free use of another system, Citizen of Axon.
The company also recently loaned the police an ‘interview room’ or electronic unit and demonstrated it to recruits at Wellington Police College.
Police tested Axon Citizen inconclusively in 2018. Twelve people sent them photos or videos; in only one instance did they prove that it helped apprehend a questionable driver.
A second trial did not take place in May this year.
RNZ asked the police for their emails with Axon about the free deal with Citizen, but they did not release them.
Police first used Axon in 2007. For a decade, police kept Taser images internally and Axon (then Taser International) managed them remotely.
But in 2017, after a self-proclaimed ‘brief’ privacy impact assessment that interviewed just eight police personnel, police opted to start sending the taser footage to Google’s cloud storage. Axon in Canberra.
“The project will reduce existing privacy risks,” the privacy assessment said.
Videos of domestic harm cases — injuries, scenes and interviews — were added en masse starting in 2020, the documents say.
Court clerks now also use evidence.com storage, from Canberra’s servers, to access police evidence files.
However, Axon’s offerings in the United States often contain guarantees that all content will only be stored in the United States.
New Zealand police said some of the evidence held by Axon relates to or comes from children.
“There are no additional checks regarding data storage for persons under 18” beyond regular checks, they told RNZ.
All evidence stored by Axon was controlled and held by the police, and Axon had “limited” access or modification to it, they said.
What if Axon goes bankrupt? Police said this was covered in their service agreement – which they refused to RNZ.
Axon’s terms and conditions state that it can terminate its service at any time and that customers have 90 days to delete their data.
The OIA documents don’t mention license plate cameras, but police are considering installing more in patrol cars.
Several recent Agreements between US police and Axon Body cameras can cost around $1,000 each. Individual Basic User Licenses cost of proof.com around $300 each and the “Pro” licenses around $800 each.
No details of these costs are provided by the New Zealand Police, other than to say that “unlimited data storage is included in the overall charge”.
Also, they said they pay for both basic and pro licenses of evidence.com, but not how much.
Police also withheld reports they said they made of:
- replacement of their investigative interview suites – this covers locations where interviews with children and victims of sexual assault are conducted, and those with suspects and witnesses;
- replace their Axon TaserX2 – these have built-in cameras which cause problems;
- and use Axon to store their masses of forensic imagery.
Police said it would be commercially harmful and undermine free and frank discussion among officials to tell the public more.