(NaturalNews) If you're old enough to remember the Robocop movies, you likely remember that the main character, "Robocop," came complete with a sophisticated self-defense system that included, of course, surveillance cameras that could record at will.
That metalized version of a police officer is still pretty much science fiction, even given today's advanced technologies, but many of Robocop's capabilities - police body armor, heavier automatic weapons and surveillance - are indeed a reality.
And, of course, so much surveillance by law enforcement is raising the eyebrows - and ire - of privacy advocates.
Reduced litigation, sure, but at what price to the Fourth Amendment?
According to Britain's Daily Mail and other outlets, soon police officers there and in the United States may universally be equipped with tiny cameras attached to their uniforms, ostensibly for recording criminal activities and other incidents as they happen so they can be used as evidence later in court.
The primary manufacturer of this technology, Taser International, already has a corner on the market of non-lethal technology used by virtually every one of the 18,000 police agencies in the country - the "Taser" brand electrified stun gun that can temporarily debilitate suspects with huge volts of electricity until cops can cuff 'em and take them into custody.
The new surveillance device is called the Axon Flex, and it is reportedly similar to Google Glass (another huge Fourth Amendment privacy-violation technology). The former is also a "head-mounted camera worn by officers to record evidence from incidents as they work their patrols," the Mail reports.
The company says the tiny cameras would not only provide officers with valuable evidence in criminal cases, but also be invaluable in terms of bringing transparency in cases where cops have been accused of overreacting, thereby reducing the costs of litigation.
Privacy advocates, however, are concerned about the portability of the cameras, which were launched last year. At 3.2 inches, they can be slipped onto baseball caps or a pair of sunglasses or other eyewear. The control unit is worn inside the police uniform, just below the chest.
Per the Daily Mail:
As the camera captures evidence, the video is sent by Bluetooth to an iPhone or Android device and streamed over 3G to Taser's cloud platform, Evidence.com. It is a web service designed to store and categorize videos so they can be used in court to bolster police reports.
Manufacturers are, of course, blowing off concerns about civil liberties violations, saying the increased transparency brought about by the portable robo-cams will be a sum benefit. That line of thought is summed up by Cincinnati-based civil rights attorney Scott Greenwood, who told the online mag TheVerge that the police agencies around the country could save millions of dollars on litigation - if the technology is used properly.
"You really can't overstate how much liability could be decreased with the use of these devices," he told the Mail.
Protecting your rights would require 'policies that don't yet exist'
Several police departments are already using the mini-cams. The Mesa, Ariz., Police Department, for instance, has purchased $50,000 worth of the cameras; officials there say they are already paying for themselves in terms of saving the department litigation. The Verge said that last year alone, litigation cost the department more than $62,000.
But the online magazine also brings up privacy concerns as well:
Axon Flex and Evidence.com sound like they could be useful for police. But since the technology is so new, and the policies governing it non-existent, one big question goes unanswered: Will such technology help serve and protect the actual people being policed? Or is it destined for abuse, ripe for privacy invasion?
Right now, said the magazine, "protecting your rights would require policies that don't yet exist."