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Axon Fights Deepfakes with New Body Cams, Debuts RMS

New tools from one of the nation’s top police-tech companies, a new body camera and a cloud-based RMS, debuted last month at several police departments in California trying to address a few 21st-century concerns.

Axon, a top purveyor of law enforcement technology, announced in recent weeks a pair of new tools deploying in several California jurisdictions. One is an update of one of the company’s main products, the body camera; the other is a new cloud-based records management system (RMS).

The growing sophistication of “deepfake” videos, convincingly edited to mislead, has drawn the attention of public-security stakeholders from nonprofit researchers to state legislators. The latest body cameras from Axon aim to curtail the problem at the source.

Now shipping for deployment in three California police departments, according to a news release last month, the Axon Body 3 comes with security upgrades to prevent tampering with the public records they exist to produce. Axon declined an interview for this story, but a spokesperson explained in an email that new features include disk encryption, file fingerprints and audit logs to ensure the original video data is preserved, even if redacted or edited copies are made for public release.

Other new features of the Axon Body 3 include real-time alerts, live maps and live streaming, with future upgrades proposed to allow real-time evidence offloading from the field, a "find my officer" locator, and interoperability with mobile devices.

The company also said in an email that it’s researching blockchain technology, but it didn’t elaborate.

“We recognize the threat posed by ‘deepfakes’ to cause general mistrust in the integrity of any video, including body-worn camera videos,” the emailed statement read. “The Axon ecosystem has been refined over years to ensure strong chain-of-custody and robust video integrity validation throughout the life cycle of video evidence.”

The email said Oxnard, San Leandro and Tracy police departments collectively ordered 409 Axon Body 3 cameras, and more agencies will receive orders by the end of the month.

As the largest provider of body cameras in the U.S., Axon comes under frequent scrutiny for what features it chooses to include. At the suggestion of an independent advisory group, Axon announced in June that it would not put facial recognition technology in its body cameras nor make face-matching technology for the foreseeable future, although it said face-matching — identifying a face by matching it to a photo in a database — warrants further research.

The concern in that case was that tagging people’s faces without their consent could create a surveillance apparatus ripe for abuse, and the algorithms involved are susceptible to false identification, more so for some racial groups than others.

Entering the RMS market in competition with companies such as Mark43, Tyler Technologies and CentralSquare, Axon Records debuted last month with the Fresno Police Department.

According to a news release, the cloud-based, customizable RMS aims to expedite the report-writing process to give officers more time in the field. Features touted by the company include the ability to incorporate all evidence and documents into a single incident, predictive typing, a configurable validation engine to connect with the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), and integrations with other systems to connect with hardware and avoid duplication of work.

Fresno Police Chief Andrew Hall said in a public statement that his department opted to try Axon Records after more than two decades with a legacy RMS.

"What was truly amazing to me was that we were able to train more than 800 employees in five weeks without disruption to the organization,” he said. “Now that we are deploying Axon Records, we're confident the system will incorporate everything we need for what is essentially the backbone of our agency."

Andrew Westrope is a staff writer for Government Technology. Before that, he was a reporter and editor at community newspapers for seven years. He has a Bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.