Tag: Amazon

Amazon Patents Police Traffic Stop Drone

Last July, Dallas police used a robot to kill the man who fatally shot five Dallas-area police officers. Shortly after the shooting I noted that new technologies, such as robots, should prompt lawmakers to find ways to make the face-to-face interactions citizens have with officers safer and less frequent. A recent Amazon patent reveals how new technologies can play a role in improving traffic stops, one of the most common citizen-police encounters.

Amazon Technologies, Inc. recently secured a patent for small shoulder-mounted police drones. The patent abstract explains that, “The techniques and systems can include routines to provide enhanced support for police during routine traffic stops.”

Drones like the one detailed in the Amazon patent could help improve traffic stops. Drones would allow police to examine a pulled-over vehicle before approaching in person. This increased situational awareness would help police officers, providing them with valuable information about how many people are in the car and whether the driver or any passengers have their hands in sight. As drone technology improves it’s likely that police will be able to use similar drones to issue commands. 

If appropriate accountability policies are enacted, these small drones could serve as useful tools in police misconduct investigations. Drone footage of the Philando Castile and Samuel DuBose shootings, for example, would have been helpful to investigators.

But despite the potential for these small drones being useful in misconduct investigations and helping police during traffic stops, citizens may be concerned about the impact such drones could have on their civil liberties. Having a small drone buzzing around your car during a traffic stop may be unnerving, but unless the drone is outfitted with sophisticated surveillance tools it’s unlikely that it will prompt a robust Constitutional challenge.

If these small Amazon drones are equipped with traditional cameras and don’t enter a car during a traffic stop, then they will only be capturing images of material in “plain view.” Nonetheless, citizens should be wary of small police drones being outfitted with surveillance technology that could raise constitutional issues, such as thermal scanners.

New technologies such as drones and body cameras will undoubtedly play an increasingly prominent role in law enforcement. Small drones like the one described in Amazon’s patent could help make routine traffic stops safer for officers and citizens. However, as the ongoing debates about body cameras have demonstrated, these new technologies can only serve as tools for worthwhile criminal justice reform if they’re governed by good policies. It’s not hard to see how small drones could help police and citizens during traffic stops. But as police drones become more common we shouldn’t forget that they can serve as platforms for a host of technologies that threaten civil liberties.

California Wants Amazon to Tax Californians

The Los Angeles Times has a good article on California’s move to require Amazon and other out-of-state retailers to collect taxes for it. Good because it accurately portrays what’s happening. Many such stories will say that California is seeking to tax Amazon. In fact, says the headline, “California Tells Online Retailers to Start Collecting Sales Taxes From Customers.”

You see, Californians generally don’t pay their “use taxes“—the alternative to sales taxes, for things brought into the state from outside. If the tax authorities tried to collect use taxes, going door to door to tally up the goods that haven’t yet been taxed, there would be bedlam.

So they want out-of-state companies that sell into California to collect the taxes that the state’s residents would pay. But in 1992, the Supreme Court found in a decision called Quill v. North Dakota that states can’t require out-of-state retailers to collect taxes for them. Doing so would create too great a burden on interstate commerce.

If an Internet retailer has a significant presence in a state, then the state can require the retailer to collect and remit sales taxes. (It’s no longer interstate commerce—get it?) So Amazon and other retailers are doing the sensible thing: shedding ties to California, such as with their affiliate marketers. Reports the Times:

Amazon and online retailer Overstock.com Inc. told thousands of California Internet marketing affiliates that they will stop paying commissions for referrals of so-called click-through customers. … Both Amazon in Seattle and Overstock in Salt Lake City have told affiliates that they would have to move to another state if they wanted to continue earning commissions for referring customers.

The natural result of California doing yet more to make the state uninhabitable for business comes at the end of the story. Californians who earned and spent money in California as part of the Internet remote sales ecosystem plan to move elsewhere:

One affiliate, Ken Rockwell of San Diego, the owner of a 12-year-old photography website, said he planned to move out of state. “Will it be Las Vegas or Scottsdale or Ensenada?” he said. “It’s a question of where, not if.”

In the Quill case, the Supreme Court invited Congress to change the rule that it laid down. If it saw fit, Congress could permit states to export their tax responsibilities to businesses in every other state. But this would cut off the healthy tax competition you see happening in the area of remote sales; both taxes and tax collection burdens would rise.

Profligate and tax hungry states like California are desperate to overturn Quill in the courts or through the Congress. Here’s hoping they fail.

Warner Brothers Distributes “The Cartel”

Early this year, when I heard that Paramount had picked up the education documentary “Waiting for Superman” after its award winning appearance at the Sundance Film Festival, I was honestly surprised. The film is not kind to the status quo education monopoly in this country, and Hollywood does not have a history of indicting that system as a whole. But its director was an Obama-supporting, “Inconvenient Truth” shooting Democrat who perhaps, I thought, had made the message palatable to the Left Coast establishment. It didn’t necessarily portend a fundamental change in Hollywood’s tastes.

But that was months ago. Times change. Yesterday I learned from Bob Bowdon, director of the brutally candid education expose “The Cartel” that his film has been picked up for distribution by Warner Brothers Studios. It’s now available not just for sale but instant viewing on Amazon.com.

Remember 2010. It’s the year Americans finally started to tear down education’s Berlin Wall.

Thursday Links

What Caused the Crisis?

Last night National Government Radio promoted a documentary on National Government TV about the financial crisis of 2008, which concludes that the problem was … not enough government.

If the “Frontline” episode mentioned any of the ways that government created the crisis – cheap money from the central bank, tax laws that encourage debt over equity, government regulation that pressured lenders to issue mortgages to borrowers who wouldn’t be able to pay them back – NPR didn’t mention it.

For information on those causes, take a look at this paper by Lawrence H. White or get the new book Financial Fiasco by Johan Norberg, which Amity Shlaes called “a masterwork in miniature.” Available in hardcover or immediately as an e-book. Or on Kindle!

And for a warning about the dangers lurking in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, see this 2004 paper by Lawrence J. White.

Internet Companies’ Bogus Plea for Regulation

Some of the most prominent Internet companies sent a letter yesterday asking for protection from market forces. Among them: Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Twitter.

A Washington Post story summarizes their concerns: “[W]ithout a strong anti-discrimination policy, companies like theirs may not get a fair shot on the Internet because carriers could decide to block them from ever reaching consumers.”

No ISP could block access to these popular services and survive, of course. What they could do is try to charge the most popular services a higher tariff to get their services through. Thus, weep the helpless, multi-billion-dollar Internet behemoths, we need a “fair shot”!

Plain and simple, these companies want regulation to ensure that ISPs can’t capture a larger share of the profits that the Internet generates. They want it all for themselves. Phrased another way, the goal is to create a subsidy for content creators by blocking ISPs from getting a piece of the action.

It’s all very reminiscent of disputes between coal mines and railroads. The coal mines “produced the coal” and believed that the profitability of the coal-energy ecosystem should accrue only to themselves, with railroads earning the barest minimum. But where is it written that digging coal out of the ground is what creates the value, and getting it where it’s used creates none? Transport may be as valuable as “production” of both commodities and content. The market should decide, not the industry with the best lobbyists.

What happens if ISPs can’t capture the value of providing transport? Of course, less investment flows to transport and we have less of it. Consumers will have to pay more of their dollars out of pocket for broadband, while Facebook’s boy CEO draws an excessive salary from atop a pile of overpriced stock holdings. The irony is thick when opponents of high executive compensation support “net neutrality” regulation.

Another reason why these Internet companies’ concerns are bogus is their size and popularity. They have a direct line to consumers and more than enough capability to convince consumers that any given ISP is wrongly degrading access to their services. As Tim Lee pointed out in his excellent paper, “The Durable Internet,” ownership of a network service does not equate to control. ISPs can be quickly reined in by the public, as has already happened.

A “net neutrality” subsidy for small start-up services is also unnecessary: They have no profits to share with ISPs. What about mid-size services—heading to profitability, but not there yet? Can ISPs choke them off? Absolutely not.

Large, established companies are not known for being ahead of trends, for one thing, and the anti-authoritarian culture of the Internet is the perfect place to play “beleaguered upstart” against the giant, evil ISP. There could be no greater PR gift than for a small service to have access to it degraded by an ISP.

The Internet companies’ plea for regulation is bogus, and these companies are losing their way. The leadership of these companies should fire their government relations staffs, disband their contrived advocacy organization, and get back to innovating and competing.