Finally something to save you from the oppression of your pocket computer.
A cellphone video of a South Carolina police officer shooting an unarmed black man in the back prompted national outrage and criminal charges against the officer. The event has increased the calls for police to wear body cameras in their interactions with the public.
But would a police-worn body camera have held Officer Michael Slager accountable for killing Walter Scott?
There is a growing movement to outfit police officers with body cameras that can record their interactions with the public. Calls have been made for the cameras by the parents of Michael Brown, and by many police chiefs across the nation. President Obama proposed getting 50,000 body cameras to police stations nationwide.
The White House quotes a study conducted in Rialto, California, that found a 60 percent drop in use of force and an 88 percent drop in complaints against officers after the introduction of body cameras. In San Diego, according to a report released by the city, complaints and use of personal body force incidents decreased by about 40 percent and 45 percent.
However, a recent Fusion investigation found that in two of the five cities studied, the introduction of police-worn body cameras showed little effect. Fusion also found that the footage is generally used for the benefit of the police officer, rather than citizens issuing complaints.
This surprised me at first, but then I took at a look at the companies that make these cameras. Benefiting cops is certainly how the body cameras are marketed.
The companies that make the cameras pitch them as tools to protect police officers against erroneous claims. In marketing materials for body cameras made by Taser, the company writes, “When your honor is on the line, don’t let a 3-second cell phone clip define you.”
With the cameras and the rules that govern their use in control of the police, you see many of the problems that you might expect. Officers almost always control the record button, so there is no guarantee that any incident will even be caught on footage. If it is recorded, problems often still arise. Radley Balko, a journalist who covers civil liberties and criminal justice, highlighted how San Diego Police Department will not release any footage it considers to be part of an investigation. And too often, the footage is claimed to be unavailable.
Balko wrote in August: “There have been too many examples in which an officer has “forgotten” to turn on a camera, a camera has coincidentally malfunctioned at a critical time, or video has gone missing.”
For these reasons, a body camera video of the killing of Walter Scott would likely have been kept out of the public’s eye. Body cameras have definite potential to create a record of critical interactions between police and citizens. But until there are strict rules governing their use and impartial oversight of the recorded footage, using cell phone cameras might still be necessary for citizens to hold police accountable.
Will the Iran-U.S. nuclear deal be good for the region?
Most events are at once good news and bad news. Every action that takes place in such a complex environment invariably causes a chain reaction of mostly unpredictable consequences. The only choice that leaders have is to set in motion a plan that seems like it has the best chance at not becoming a total catastrophe.
The Iran-U.S. nuclear deal, if it goes through, will have far-reaching and ambiguous effects on the region. A well-executed deal could suspend Iran’s nuclear weapons program, deescalate a decades-old cold war between U.S. and Iran, and provide relief to millions of Iranians struggling with a crippled economy. A deal could also allow the Iranian government to double down on its support for the Assad regime in Syria, which is currently dropping barrel-bombs on its citizens. The deal could strain ties between the U.S. and its longtime allies in the Persian Gulf like Saudi Arabia. A deal could have effects on the price of oil, as well as Russia’s economy and its government’s behavior.
While the sum of the effects will be incalculable, engaging with Iran does create more opportunities to effectively deal with the very pressing problems that exist in the region — not to mention the ones that will inevitably come up. For now, it’s impossible to say if the framework for the U.S.-Iran deal is good news or bad news, but I’d risk that as a guess for moving forward, it’s as good as any.
Facebook is proving that it cares more about expanding internationally than protecting users’ rights to privacy and expression.
On Jan. 9, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a firm and emotional statement on the importance of free speech to Facebook, signing off with the ubiquitous hashtag, “Je Suis Charlie.”
A few weeks later, Facebook complied with an order from the Turkish government to remove images of the Prophet Mohammed, the latest in a series of moves from the social network that give into government influence. The decision reflects the lucrative market that Turkey represents for the American tech company.
In late December, Facebook acquiesced to the Russian government’s order to block access to a page calling for a protest in support of Alexei Navalny. Navalny is Russian President Vladamir Putin’s most vocal critic and is currently under house arrest in Moscow.
It’s also no secret that Zuckerberg has been actively seeking to have Facebook operate in the Chinese market, hosting the Chinese minister of Cyberspace Administration at Facebook’s headquarters, and sucking up to the Chinese President Xi Jinping. If Facebook did receive permission to operate in China, where it is currently blocked, it would certainly have to cooperate with censorship orders from the Chinese government.
Facebook argues that it is simply complying with local laws in the countries that it operates and touts reports it releases with aggregated government requests for data and censorship. Turkey’s government threatened to block access to the entire site if Facebook did not cooperate with its censorship orders.
Facebook is not a “public square.” It is a corporation, and it will do whatever it can to increase market share. However, if Facebook truly wanted to be the force for freedom of expression it claims to be, it could use its considerable influence and visibility to stand up against and refuse to be complicit in repressive government policies.
The greatest threat to the freedom of the press and expression doesn’t come from extremists — it comes from government itself.
Leaders and dignitaries from across the world convened in Paris on Sunday in a show of unity following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. Unfortunately, many of the governments represented have atrocious records dealing with the press and freedom of expression in their own countries. To mention a few:
- Britain’s government did it’s best to hamper the Guardian’s ability to report on state surveillance revelations from the Edward Snowden documents.
- Turkey’s government just arrested the editor in chief of a leading newspaper and is constantly prosecuting cartoonists for drawing-related crimes.
- In a highly-flawed trial, Egypt’s government jailed 3 Al Jazeera journalists for aiding the Muslim Brotherhood.
- The U.S. government — and the Obama administration in particular — has aggressively pursued and jailed whistleblowers that speak to journalists. The only CIA employee to face jail time for the torture program at the agency was John Kiriakou, who tried to expose it.
The brutal deaths of the cartoonists, editors and journalists at Charlie Hebdo are a tragic loss.
As eloquently put by Joe Randazzo, a former Onion editor, “This is a loss for all of humanity. The victims, people who believed with passion and intellect that humankind can be better, were struck down in the birthplace of the Enlightenment, the movement from which the modern world emanates.”
At the heart of this story is the contrast between the peaceful freedom of expression and violence.
My focus fell on the bravery of continuing to work and maintain a sense of humor, while under the threat of imminent violence — even death.