Raspberry Pi’s latest hire is an ex-cop who built surveillance devices

Raspberry Pi's Toby Roberts

The Raspberry Pi Foundation’s latest hire has not been met with the best responses, as it was revealed that the ex-cop used the hardware for spying.

Toby Roberts is an ex-cop who specialized in using Raspberry Pi PCs to build surveillance devices. He is now Raspberry Pi’s ‘Maker in Residence’. In the introductory blog, he reveals that he utilized the single board computers in custom surveillance devices for the UK police.

The response from a community that prides itself on the basis of freedom from these kinds of operations was unsurprisingly negative. Raspberry Pi stems from the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) groups around the web. Raspberry Pi’s own operating system is built off of Linux, a free alternative to Windows and macOS.

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Even the head of Raspberry Pi, has gone on record saying that he takes people’s word like Richard Stallman (a staunch advocate against surveillance and head of the GNU Project) to heart.

With trust at an all-time low for the police worldwide, the responses to the introduction over on Mastodon, Reddit, and Twitter ranged from negative to lampooning the company.

To make things worse, Raspberry Pi’s social media team has bungled the response to concerned users and an interview with Buzzfeed has caused greater concerns to arise.

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The social media team’s tactics have included blocking users outright.

On Mastodon, Raspberry Pi’s social media team responded with sarcastic remarks in response to users raising the issue of hiring an ex-surveillance officer.

One user stated, “That’s not cool folks, really not OK.” In turn, the Raspberry Pi account responded with “Any other people with previous jobs in other professions you’d like us not to hire?”

While Roberts’ response to the fiasco was to claim that “Everything I do now is a million miles from my old world”, the Buzzfeed feature has egged on the concerns from both privacy and FOSS communities.

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Raspberry Pi co-founder responds

Talking with Liz Upton, the co-founder, and chief marketing officer of Raspberry Pi, Buzzfeed quizzed her on the new hire. Her reaction was similar to that of the social media team.

“I think what we’re looking at is a dogpile that’s being organized somewhere.

“There’s obviously a Discord or a forum somewhere.”

Buzzfeed points out that Upton never provided evidence of this, including no evidence provided in regards to Roberts being doxxed and receiving death threats.

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She also states that the reaction is “not genuine”. Upton says that his 30-year career in the force is not comparable to that of the US police, failing to acknowledge that the UK police force consistently faces scrutiny over misconduct or abuse of power.

Another Mastodon user highlighted that the hire has broken the trust between the user and Raspberry Pi. Once a stalwart in the community, the lack of care surrounding hiring someone who used their products for various surveillance projects within the police have broken the built trust.

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Other discussions online have also raised the issue that someone like this being involved with Raspberry Pi could lead the company to involve itself with similar business decisions going forward.

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