Body Worn Video Steering Group

Body Worn Video: Solicitor on Being Clear on Being Filmed

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(Via The Scotsman): 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 on the topic of body worn video (BWV) cameras.


Thirty years the notion that you could not walk down any street in any city centre in the UK without some form of CCTV or surveillance recording your every move would have sounded like Orwellian fiction. Although this is only an urban myth, it encompasses more truth than most of us would perhaps like. In the wake of the Snowden revelations and recent reports of Government Communications Headquarters having access to bulk communications materials and privileged legal documents without warrant, the use of body worn cameras for surveillance purposes is a divisive prospect, adding to the already heated “privacy v security” debate.

The traditional argument for CCTV is that it helps detect and deter crime but its practicality is limited. Footage isn’t exactly HD quality and it can’t be used to record domestic or other crimes which occur within private residences. This is perhaps why police forces throughout the UK are beginning to trial the use of body worn cameras as an addition to, not a replacement for, existing CCTV systems.

Body worn cameras are essentially tiny cameras mounted to the front of a standard police uniform, which can be used to record audio and visual footage of anything the officer witnesses on duty – including visits inside private homes – justified, perhaps, because of the need to evidence crime in a way which can be carefully controlled by the police.

If body worn cameras are the only way an officer can gather critical, conclusive evidence to avoid a “he said, she said” scenario, then surely they should be able to use such devices all the time? Some argue, the solution isn’t that simple.

The use of body worn cameras throws up a number of privacy issues, such as: whether it is appropriate to record everything or whether recording should be limited to, for example, criminal acts, interviews and arrests; whether members of the public should be made aware when they may be recorded; how the footage can be securely stored once it has been recorded; and how long footage should be kept before it is deleted.

Such issues will have no doubt been carefully considered by police forces before implementing the use of body worn cameras, with many referring to material on the policy and guidelines page of the Body Worn Video Steering Group, which serves as an end user focused community discussing the use of body cameras in the private and public sector.

It’s easy to see how the use of these cameras could spread outside of the police sphere, to security guards, bank staff, bar and restaurant staff, retail assistants… essentially anyone with a public-facing job.

Legally, there is an issue as to when the legitimate use of body worn cameras should take precedence over privacy rights. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – the body responsible for enforcing data protection in the UK – has recently updated its code of practice on CCTV to include guidelines on the use of body worn cameras and other surveillance technologies such as drones and number plate recognition devices. The main principles are: don’t record people unless you absolutely have to, let them know if you are recording them, and delete footage once you no longer need it.

The most significant of these for body worn cameras is that individuals should be notified if they are being recorded, it is required for CCTV but clear and obvious CCTV warning signs are, in daily life, a rarity. Following the release of the new ICO code of practice, organisations should now be thinking even more carefully about using body worn cameras for surveillance purposes. Going forward, best practice will be for organisations to take a proactive approach to ensuring privacy is sufficiently protected before using body worn cameras on a wide-scale basis.

Carrying out a full, documented analysis of privacy risks is a must, as are clear and prominent notices about what, and who, may be recorded. As a member of the public, you have the right to expect that you will always be made aware if you are being recorded.

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  • Bruce

    I recently watched a program on TV called Bodycam,

    I was surprised to see that the Police officers using Body cameras did not in fact state that they were filming, which I thought was part of the guidance?

    Starting a recording
    At the start of any recording, the user should, where practicable, make a verbal
    announcement to indicate that the BWV equipment has been activated. This announcement
    should be captured on the recording and, if possible, should include:
    • the date, time and location
    • the nature of the incident to which the user is deployed
    • confirmation to those present that the incident is now being recorded using both
    video and audio.
    If the recording has started prior to the user’s arrival at the scene of an incident, they should,
    as soon as is practicable, announce to those present that recording is taking place and
    that their actions and sounds are being recorded. Announcements should be made using
    straightforward language that can be easily understood, such as:
    • ‘I am audio and video-recording you’
    • ‘I am audio and video-recording this incident’
    • ‘Everything you say and do is being recorded’.

    If Body Cameras are to be a part of our lives then the Police should lead by example.


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