Entries Tagged "Tasers"

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What Information Are Stun Guns Recording?

In a story about a stolen Stradivarius violin, there’s this:

Information from a stun gun company, an anonymous tip and hours of surveillance paved the way for authorities to find a stolen 300-year-old Stradivarius violin in the attic of a Milwaukee home, police said Thursday.

[…]

Taser International, the maker of the stun gun used in the attack, “provided invaluable information” that the FBI tracked down in Texas and ultimately led police to Universal Allah, a Milwaukee resident, Police Chief Edward Flynn said Thursday.

The criminals stunned a musician as he was leaving a show at church, and drove off with his multimillion-dollar violin. What information could the stun gun company give the police that would be invaluable? Is it as simple as knowing who purchased the weapon, which was dropped at the scene? Or something weirder?

EDITED TO ADD (2/18): This may be it:

As the Milwaukee Police and the FBI began to conduct the investigation they reached out to us at TASER in order to identify possible suspects in the case. This was accomplished thanks to our Anti-Felon Identification tags (AFID). The AFID program enforces accountability for each use of a TASER device. This system releases dozens of confetti-sized markers upon discharge of a CEW cartridge. Each AFID contains a serial number that tracks back to the original purchaser of the cartridge. The large number of AFIDs and their small size makes it impractical to clean up. Therefore, law enforcement can pick up one AFID and contact TASER International for a complete trace on the serial number.

At the time of purchase, we verify the identity and background of the prospective buyer with the understanding that we will not release the information and it will be kept confidential unless a TASER device is used in the commission of a crime. This information proved invaluable during the investigation on the Stradivarius violin. “We worked very closely with TASER International who provided us invaluable information that the FBI was able to track down for us in Texas,” said Chief Flynn, “That information led us to an individual who had purchased this device.”

Posted on February 18, 2014 at 8:30 AMView Comments

Transparency and Accountability

As part of the fallout of the Boston bombings, we’re probably going to get some new laws that give the FBI additional investigative powers. As with the Patriot Act after 9/11, the debate over whether these new laws are helpful will be minimal, but the effects on civil liberties could be large. Even though most people are skeptical about sacrificing personal freedoms for security, it’s hard for politicians to say no to the FBI right now, and it’s politically expedient to demand that something be done.

If our leaders can’t say no — and there’s no reason to believe they can — there are two concepts that need to be part of any new counterterrorism laws, and investigative laws in general: transparency and accountability.

Long ago, we realized that simply trusting people and government agencies to always do the right thing doesn’t work, so we need to check up on them. In a democracy, transparency and accountability are how we do that. It’s how we ensure that we get both effective and cost-effective government. It’s how we prevent those we trust from abusing that trust, and protect ourselves when they do. And it’s especially important when security is concerned.

First, we need to ensure that the stuff we’re paying money for actually works and has a measureable impact. Law-enforcement organizations regularly invest in technologies that don’t make us any safer. The TSA, for example, could devote an entire museum to expensive but ineffective systems: puffer machines, body scanners, FAST behavioral screening, and so on. Local police departments have been wasting lots of post-9/11 money on unnecessary high-tech weaponry and equipment. The occasional high-profile success aside, police surveillance cameras have been shown to be a largely ineffective police tool.

Sometimes honest mistakes led organizations to invest in these technologies. Sometimes there’s self-deception and mismanagement—and far too often lobbyists are involved. Given the enormous amount of security money post-9/11, you inevitably end up with an enormous amount of waste. Transparency and accountability are how we keep all of this in check.

Second, we need to ensure that law enforcement does what we expect it to do and nothing more. Police powers are invariably abused. Mission creep is inevitable, and it results in laws designed to combat one particular type of crime being used for an ever-widening array of crimes. Transparency is the only way we have of knowing when this is going on.

For example, that’s how we learned that the FBI is abusing National Security Letters. Traditionally, we use the warrant process to protect ourselves from police overreach. It’s not enough for the police to want to conduct a search; they also need to convince a neutral third party — a judge — that the search is in the public interest and will respect the rights of those searched. That’s accountability, and it’s the very mechanism that NSLs were exempted from.

When laws are broken, accountability is how we punish those who abused their power. It’s how, for example, we correct racial profiling by police departments. And it’s a lack of accountability that permits the FBI to get away with massive data collection until exposed by a whistleblower or noticed by a judge.

Third, transparency and accountability keep both law enforcement and politicians from lying to us. The Bush Administration lied about the extent of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. The TSA lied about the ability of full-body scanners to save naked images of people. We’ve been lied to about the lethality of tasers, when and how the FBI eavesdrops on cell-phone calls, and about the existence of surveillance records. Without transparency, we would never know.

A decade ago, the FBI was heavily lobbying Congress for a law to give it new wiretapping powers: a law known as CALEA. One of its key justifications was that existing law didn’t allow it to perform speedy wiretaps during kidnapping investigations. It sounded plausible — and who wouldn’t feel sympathy for kidnapping victims? — but when civil-liberties organizations analyzed the actual data, they found that it was just a story; there were no instances of wiretapping in kidnapping investigations. Without transparency, we would never have known that the FBI was making up stories to scare Congress.

If we’re going to give the government any new powers, we need to ensure that there’s oversight. Sometimes this oversight is before action occurs. Warrants are a great example. Sometimes they’re after action occurs: public reporting, audits by inspector generals, open hearings, notice to those affected, or some other mechanism. Too often, law enforcement tries to exempt itself from this principle by supporting laws that are specifically excused from oversight…or by establishing secret courts that just rubber-stamp government wiretapping requests.

Furthermore, we need to ensure that mechanisms for accountability have teeth and are used.

As we respond to the threat of terrorism, we must remember that there are other threats as well. A society without transparency and accountability is the very definition of a police state. And while a police state might have a low crime rate — especially if you don’t define police corruption and other abuses of power as crime — and an even lower terrorism rate, it’s not a society that most of us would willingly choose to live in.

We already give law enforcement enormous power to intrude into our lives. We do this because we know they need this power to catch criminals, and we’re all safer thereby. But because we recognize that a powerful police force is itself a danger to society, we must temper this power with transparency and accountability.

This essay previously appeared on TheAtlantic.com.

Posted on May 14, 2013 at 5:48 AMView Comments

More "War on the Unexpected"

The “War on the Unexpected” is being fought everywhere.

In Australia:

Bouncers kicked a Melbourne man out of a Cairns pub after paranoid patrons complained that he was reading a book called The Unknown Terrorist.

At the U.S. border with Canada:

A Canadian firetruck responding with lights and sirens to a weekend fire in Rouses Point, New York, was stopped at the U.S. border for about eight minutes, U.S. border officials said Tuesday.

[…]

The Canadian firefighters “were asked for IDs,” Trombley said. “I believe they even ran the license plate on the truck to make sure it was legal.”

In the UK:

A man who had gone into a diabetic coma on a bus in Leeds was shot twice with a Taser gun by police who feared he may have been a security threat.

In Maine:

A powdered substance that led to a baggage claim being shut down for nearly six hours at the Portland International Jetport was a mixture of flour and sugar, airport officials said Thursday.

Fear is winning. Refuse to be terrorized, people.

Posted on November 21, 2007 at 6:39 AMView Comments

Identification Technology in Personal-Use Tasers

Taser — yep, that’s the company’s name as well as the product’s name — is now selling a personal-use version of their product. It’s called the Taser C2, and it has an interesting embedded identification technology. Whenever the weapon is fired, it also sprays some serial-number bar-coded confetti, so a firing can be traced to a weapon and — presumably — the owner.

Anti-Felon Identification (AFID)

A system to deter misuse through enhanced accountability, AFID includes bar-coded serialization of each cartridge and disperses confetti-like ID tags upon activation.

Posted on August 22, 2007 at 6:57 AMView Comments

Tampon Taser

Here’s a taser disguised as a tampon:

The tampon taser/stun gun is the latest in portable and personal security systems. The beauty of this taser/stun gun, aptly named The Pink Stinger, is its ingenious design and ability to be concealed nicely and unassumingly into any purse for ultimate stealth. The taser’s gentle glide zapplicator easily fits in the palm of your hand for incredible comfort and protection and ready for honorable discharge at a moments notice. In addition, its fresh floral scent helps eliminate the smell of fear, not just cover it up.

Important disclaimers:

This product strictly for use in accordance with country or state laws. Need not be female or menstruating to use effectively. Tampon taser/stun gun to be used for security purposes only or in self defense. It is not intended nor recommended for vaginal insertion.

Posted on May 2, 2007 at 4:05 PMView Comments

Taser Cam

Here’s an excellent use for cameras:

Now, to help better examine how Tasers are used, manufacturer Taser International Inc. has developed a Taser Cam, which company executives hope will illuminate why Tasers are needed — and add another layer of accountability for any officer who would abuse the weapon.

The Taser Cam is an audio and video recorder that attaches to the butt of the gun and starts taping when the weapon is turned on. It continues recording until the weapon is turned off. The Taser doesn’t have to be fired to use the camera.

It’s the same idea as having cameras record all police interrogations, or record all police-car stops. It helps protect the populace against police abuse, and helps protect the police of accusations of abuse.

This is where cameras do good: when they lessen a power imbalance. Imagine if they were continuously recording the actions of elected officials — when they were acting in their official capacity, that is.

Of course, cameras are only as useful as their data. If critical recordings are “lost,” then there’s no accountability. The system is pretty kludgy:

The Taser Cam records in black and white but is equipped with infrared technology to record images in very low light. The camera will have at least one hour of recording time, the company said, and the video can be downloaded to a computer over a USB cable.

How soon before the cameras simply upload their recordings, in real time, to some trusted vault somewhere?

EDITED TO ADD: CNN has a story.

Posted on November 9, 2005 at 8:46 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.