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Axon halts Taser drone plans as 9 resign on Ethics Council

WASHINGTON – Axon, the company best known for developing the Taser, said Monday it was halting plans to develop a Taser-equipped drone after the majority of its ethics committee resigned over the controversial project.

Axon founder and CEO Rick Smith said so Company announcement last week – which was rebuked by its artificial intelligence ethics council – should “initiate a conversation about it as a possible solution”.

As a result, “we are pausing work on this project and refocusing on further engagement with key stakeholders to fully explore the best way forward,” he said. The development was first reported by Reuters.

The board had voted 8-4 a few weeks ago that Axon should not proceed with a Taser drone pilot, citing concerns about the rollout of armed drones in surveilled communities of color.

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But after that Mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas The company announced that it would start developing the drone. Smith told The Associated Press last week that he went public with the idea in part because he was “disastrously disappointed” by the police response, which failed to intervene to kill the suspect for more than an hour.

The board issued a rare public rebuke of the project, saying it was a dangerous idea that went far beyond the original proposal the board was considering for a Taser-equipped police drone. It said it had “asked the company to withdraw” before the announcement, and many of them believed it was “the tragedy of the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings.”

Smith dismissed that idea in an interview with the AP last week, saying he’s going ahead because he believes the Taser drone could be a viable solution to saving lives. He claimed the idea needed to be shared as part of the public conversation about school safety and effective ways for police to safely confront attackers.

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On Monday, nine members of the Ethics Council, a group of respected experts on technology, policing and privacy, announced their resignations, saying they had “lost confidence in Axon’s ability to be a responsible partner.”

“We wish it hadn’t come to this,” the statement said. “Each of us joined this board with the belief that we can influence the direction of the company to mitigate the harm that police technology can do and better appreciate the benefits.”

“From the beginning, we’ve tried to make Axon understand that its customer needs to be the community that a police agency serves, not the police agency itself,” Barry Friedman, a New York University law professor who is one of the board members, said in an interview. “It was a painful struggle to change the calculus there.”

Friedman said a big problem is Smith’s decision to go ahead with the plan and announce it publicly without adequately hearing board members’ concerns.

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“What is the emergency? School shootings are a crisis. I agree with that,” Friedman said. “But Axon isn’t going to come up with anything on its own best timeline for a couple of years. Why was it necessary to make such a leap forward?”

“What Rick is proposing is a necessary public dialogue that has really just jumped over the head of the board,” Friedman said.

In his statement, Smith said it was “regrettable that some members of Axon’s Ethics Advisory Board have decided to withdraw from directly addressing these issues before we have heard their technical questions or had an opportunity to answer them.”

“We respect their choices and will continue to seek diverse perspectives to challenge our thinking and guide other technology options,” Smith said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/06/axon-halts-plans-for-taser-drone-as-9-on-ethics-board-resign/ Axon halts Taser drone plans as 9 resign on Ethics Council

Sarah Y. Kim

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