Most Axon Ethics Committee Members Resign in Protest Against Drone Projects

Nine of 12 members of Axon’s ethics committee – an independent group of experts and advocates it convened to help identify potential problems with new technologies before rolling them out – have resigned in protest against the company’s idea of ​​equipping drones with stun guns.

The idea for the company appeared in a June 2 blog post by company CEO Rick Smith amid a series of mass shootings, including the murder of 19 children and two teachers in a elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, as well as the killing of 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY In the post, Smith said Axon had officially begun work on a drone equipped with the company’s Taser technology that could potentially react quickly and non-lethally to stop a shooter.

Four days later, the majority of the company’s ethics committee members resigned, issuing a public letter calling the company’s idea “to entertain society with real solutions to a tragic problem” and “to discuss the tragedy of the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings”.

In a response, Smith acknowledged the company mooted the idea earlier than it otherwise would have because of the shootings, but insisted the technology was years away and without a solid timeline.

He also said that in response to the comments, the company was suspending work on the idea.

“We have a lot of work and exploration to see if this technology is even viable and to understand if public concerns can be adequately addressed before moving forward,” Smith wrote. “Pursuing a broad research path is just one part of getting it right.”

Members of the ethics committee said the technology would involve more than just drones, but the massive deployment of surveillance cameras, leading to “persistent surveillance”. These surveillance technologies, such as automatic license plate recognition cameras, have often been deployed more heavily in areas with high concentrations of low-income people and racial minorities, which has drawn criticism from civil rights activists.

“This type of surveillance will undoubtedly harm communities of color and others who are over-policed, and likely well beyond that,” the board members wrote.

The board also said none of its members expected Axon’s announcement and believed the company was bypassing the board despite its commitment to consult with it.

Axon’s press office did not immediately respond to questions about whether the board remains active or will be disbanded, but in its response, Smith said the company was committed to gathering comment. .

“It is unfortunate that some members of Axon’s Ethics Advisory Board have chosen to opt out of engaging directly on these issues before we have heard or had the opportunity to answer their technical questions,” he said. -he writes. “We respect their choice and will continue to seek diverse perspectives to challenge our thinking and help guide other technology options we should consider.”

Board members acknowledged in their statement that the company had listened to them many times and changed course based on their feedback. This included the decision to move away from the use of facial recognition, to stop pursuing plans to collect data from social media and to push for legislation regulating license plate cameras.

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