Accountability is at the crux of this moment of our history — who bears blame for their action or inaction, particularly when the cost is borne by others. And yet it's often the case that, for those in power, accountability lies elsewhere, often diffuse and shrouded behind rules and regulations and the law. Laws can protect us, but they can also serve as a fig leaf which people and organizations use to avoid questions or silence critics.
In the state of California, a law enforcement agency has used copyright as a grounds to subvert a transparency law around police training materials. As reported in Vice, California's SB 978 requires the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to publish their materials for agency training; however, POST is refusing to release any material on facial recognition or automated license plate readers, claiming that to do so would violate the copyright on the course.
It's unclear as to how that would violate copyright, or whether copyright law would even be applicable under California public record laws. What seems more certain is that both facial recognition and license plate reading technologies prove to be problematic, to say the least. As evidenced in countless other fields, relying on technology to be infallible is a mistake every time, and doing so in the application of the law a grave one with serious consequences.
From the IP side, it's yet another example of copyright becoming a weapon more than a protection. You would be hard-pressed to find an IP advocate that would suggest any copyright or trademark should supersede questions of public safety and welfare, and that's even presuming a good faith application of the law, which is hard to buy in the case of POST.
In copyright law, as in every facet of the justice system, there are those who believe that law itself is not meant to apply equally; for them, there are those meant to be protected, and those to be protected against. It's perhaps the purest distillation of a particularly virulent strain of political thinking, and one that is contrary to what we want to believe is true of our justice system, and the rule of law. But as with IP cases, justice is only as good as the ability to administer it, and only truly just if those with power submit to it as well. Until then, we're left to wonder: Qui custodiet ipsos custodes?