Axon maker of Tasers and police body cameras, has acquired a surveillance company that allows police to tap into camera networks in schools, retail stores, and other locations in cities and towns across America and apply AI technology to the footage, reported Vice. The move comes as Axon is trying to expand its cameras into retail and healthcare settings.
Axon acquired Fusus for an undisclosed sum,
according to a news release posted on Thursday. The acquisition “expands
and deepens” the companies’ so-called real time capabilities. Fusus operates
what it calls “real time crime centers (RTCC)” which allow police and other
public agencies to analyze a wide array of video sources at a single point and apply AI that detects objects and people. These centers are
reminiscent of the Department of Homeland Security’s Fusion Centers—where
intelligence from a diverse number of sources is collected and shared among
agencies—and have already expanded to over 250 cities and counties.
hospitals, schools, retail stores, houses of worship, event venues and
residential communities—whole cities and towns—are better protected and,
importantly, can contribute to greater safety for everyone,” an
Axon blog on the Fusus acquisition states.
Axon entered into a partnership with Fusus in
2022, which the company said would allow footage from Axon
body cameras and drones to feed into Fusus’ surveillance systems. Since then,
Axon has announced a push to expand its bodycam business into civilian settings. Last
week, Axon announced a new line of cameras called Axon
Body Workforce designed to be worn by workers in retail and in
healthcare. While Axon did not explicitly mention the Workforce line of cameras
in its announcement, the company said that the Fusus acquisition directly
supports this push.
“This [Fusus] acquisition also further catalyzes
Axon's growing presence in retail, healthcare, private security and the federal
space,” Axon’s press release said.
Axon, formerly TASER, Inc., has staked its entire
business on body cameras and AI since it rebranded in 2017. Despite pushing the
cameras as deterrents, data shows no evidence that they’ve been effective in
reducing police violence or increasing transparency.
The rise of Fusus is concerning to rights groups
like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has raised alarm over the expansion of law
enforcement’s ability to easily surveil Americans. Notably, the concept behind
Fusus’ solution is similar to technology that has been deployed in South Africa
for years, and which experts
have said exacerbates inequality in the country.
“Axon has been one of the major funders of Fusus for
years, and Axon’s more recent body-worn camera models are designed to integrate
with the Fusus platform,” EFF Investigative Researcher Beryl
Lipton told Motherboard. “This acquisition signals the possibility of
even greater expansion of real-time video surveillance and police surveillance
in general, as well as Axon’s interest in facilitating local police use of
real-time crime center capabilities.”
“Axon has many existing police relationships through
its [body-worn camera] and Taser markets, and every city that has an existing
contract with Axon should watch out for the attempt to expand the use of
surveillance tools in their streets, not only through use of Fusus but through
the other tools, like ALPR and drones, which have also been a key part of the
Fusus model,” Lipton continued. “Axon and Fusus may be able to expand access to
these technologies through contractual amendments rather than through a procurement
process with appropriate opportunities for public oversight. Local governments
should always be vigilant against allowing the adoption of privacy-invasive
data collection and tools, but they must be extra alert now that adoption by
bureaucracy, rather than through robust public consideration, is a strong
Spokespeople for Axon weren’t immediately available
to respond to a request for comment.
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