Body Worn Video Steering Group

Balancing Privacy and Transparency

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From the early beginnings of body worn video in the early 2000’s the second decade of this century has seen a drive towards smarter, intelligent policing by using modern technology. Inevitably this has brought to light issues surrounding what actually happens with the footage once it is stored.

With each agency that uses the devices comes a set of policies, somewhat varied, but all inherently similar and tailored to specific community needs. In most circumstances an officer will address any individuals caught on camera, notifying them they are being filmed.

When a camera is returned to base at the end of the day and docked, the video footage is securely uploaded and logged on evidence management software. But what does this mean for innocent parties who have been filmed?

Most policies afford an option whereby with a written request one can attain a copy of a video in which they were captured. However, due to variants in laws cause for concern has arisen for both sides.

On one hand the police must respect the law, after all we trust them to protect society, and work within the parameters the various laws applicable to body cameras set – a list too long to write here.


As the advances in technology continue to outstrip the pace of legislation this problem is magnified, thus there is an ever present uphill struggle for citizens wishing to stay private; and a never present one-size-fits-all solution for decision makers.

An example of this tug of war between transparency and privacy is best illustrated by events in Washington DC, which currently has a blanket ban on Freedom of Information requests for body camera footage where it would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser has tucked a provision into a spending bill that will exempt the footage captured on police body cameras from public records, making gaining access to the recordings far more challenging.

At the end of 2014, and faced by crippling request’s, DC faced a projected 3 year stretch in order to meet the requests, and worried footage would be used more for internet/television entertainment purposes. The Metropolitan Police Department have already denied requests for videos claiming that they lack the tools and skills required to edit and redact personal information, such as faces.


On the other hand members of the public are inundated with media reports, feeding information at various angles and shaping outlooks on the topic. Many simply ask for their local police to be clear on how they use their cameras, and how they can be used best within their society.

Members of the public have the right to expect that you will always be made aware if you are being recorded, says solicitor Joanne Snedden. If in doubt, the best course of action is to contact your local police force or check their website for further information.



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