Habeas Video

Habeas Video

Article from Issue 196/2017

Free Software misses an opportunity.

As I write this there's a protest going on at the shooting of a man by armed police in West Yorkshire. Not many details have been released to the public, but 24-hour news has shown us plenty of images of the dead man's car with three neat bullet holes in the windscreen. We know that the man was killed at the end of what the police are calling a "preplanned operation." We also know that no body-cam footage will ever come to light, because West Yorkshire Police does not require its officers – even firearms officers – to wear body cams.

Now, the numbers of people killed by the police in the UK is extremely small compared with that in the USA, where things like having a broken tail light, driving without insurance, and even running away can get you killed. But each and every fatality at the hands of the police is a personal tragedy for the friends and family of the deceased. We owe it to them to make sure the police are investigated as thoroughly as possible. The police themselves should see it as in their interests to put themselves above suspicion at every turn, and we, the people, really need to have every confidence that the upholders of the law aren't turning into an extrajudicial death squad. Transparency brings confidence in the system, and we all benefit, which is why I find it odd that Microsoft will be hosting body-cam footage on behalf of the Metropolitan Police via its Azure cloud. Or should I say, its Azure "Other People's Computers."

Although Microsoft says it will store the police videos at its UK data center, in the end, Microsoft is not a UK company, but rather a US company with obligations that may not always be perfectly aligned with those of the UK. It's not hard to imagine a scenario in which Microsoft's contract with the UK government runs contrary with the US's demands to know more about, for example, a terror suspect. The Metropolitan Police could avoid these complications by simply storing the videos in house using Free Software. There are plenty of cloud hosting solutions out there that the police could use to keep the data in their own data centers in a way that is much less likely to compromise the rights of victims, the accused, and even the police officers.

Microsoft isn't cheap. It's daft for an employer as large as the Metropolitan Police to pay for a commercial solution when it has the resources to develop a solution itself that can then be rolled out across the rest of the country's police forces.

Finally, and most obviously I suspect, the chain of custody for any evidence that only exists digitally, stored by a private company using proprietary software, is irredeemably compromised.

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