Body Worn Video Steering Group

Canada’s Privacy Commissioners Say ‘Slow Down’

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Canada’s federal and provincial privacy commissioners are warning police to go slow when it comes to introducing camera technology worn on the body.

Hamilton Police Body Worn Video Camera

“We are not saying to do it, we’re certainly not saying not to do it, we’re saying hit the pause button and please consider carefully the various benefits but also the risks,” said Patricia Kosseim, director general of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

The deployment of high tech cameras that can automatically and continuously record high quality audio and video of police/citizen encounters risks violating the privacy rights of citizens and police, the privacy guardians say, if the right policies and procedures are not in place.

The privacy commissioners issued a joint, detailed set of guidelines to help law enforcement agencies negotiate the thicket of privacy regulations raised by the devices.

The guidelines and accompanying warning, unanimously adopted by privacy commissioners from coast to coast, are something of a vindication for the Hamilton Police Service’s go-slow approach to the “body-worn” cameras.

Community activists, angered by the June 2013 police shooting death of Hamilton’s Steve Mesic, had been pressing police to launch a pilot project to test the technology. As recently as December, nearly 200 protesters gathered at City Hall and demanded police adopt the technology as a way of saving lives and improving public trust in them.

Steve Mesic Body Worn Video Camera Canada

Steve Mesic

But Chief Glenn De Caire repeatedly raised concerns about the cost, complexity and effectiveness of the technology and said he preferred to wait and learn from pilot projects and studies at other, larger police services like Vancouver, Toronto and Edmonton.

Last November the Hamilton police board agreed, voting to create a steering committee to study the idea for another year.

Hamilton police Supt. Paul Morrison said Monday that police have not yet chosen steering committee members, nor have they determined if the committee will be entirely internal or include members from the community.

“There will certainly be input from the community,” Morrison stressed, adding that they are focused on getting data from the Toronto pilot project for the committee.

In the meantime, Morrison said he is keeping up-to-date on developments in the field.

Before beginning a pilot project, the guidelines say police need to consult widely and create detailed policies to ensure the cameras are used in accordance with the law.

Among the many concerns commissioners say need to be addressed are:

  • Warning citizens they’re being recorded.
  • Deciding when — or if — recordings will be made in private spaces like homes.
  • Creating strict retention, disposal and access policies for the recordings.
  • Ensuring the security of the recordings.
  • Deciding if the recording devices should be “always on.”
  • Protecting the privacy rights of officers whose every word could be captured by the devices.

While Hamilton has chosen to go slowly — other Canadian police services are moving forward. Calgary has equipped several hundred officers with the cameras, and tests are either completed or underway in Edmonton, Thunder Bay and Vancouver.

After a delay of almost a year, Toronto police will launch their pilot in May when roughly 100 Toronto police officers hit the streets with body-worn cameras

(Via The Spec)

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