Body Worn Video Steering Group

Police, Politics, and Policy – Body Camera Privacy

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Concerns related to body camera privacy continues to occupy the attention of human rights groups, unions, police officers and the public alike, resulting in questions pertaining to best practice and guidelines for the technology in this regard.

In the UK law enforcement agencies generally follow the guidelines first established by Hampshire Constabulary, in addition to guidance authored by the College of Policing. Generally speaking privacy is defined by physical privacy (the right to be let alone) and informational privacy (protection of personal data).

Overall, any policy or guidance in relation to body camera privacy is governed by Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which defines the ‘Right to respect for private and family life’ as:

  1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
  2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Within the spectrum of the body camera privacy discussion great importance is placed on the technology’s ability for success; but equally not to infringe on the rights of those using, or affected by it.

Therefore a balance of interests between both the police and public perspectives is paramount to ensuring the continued development of the technology, while averting controversy in what is at best a compromise in order to uphold the law.

The average police shift can be up to 12 hours, of which much time can present few/no events which requires police response that would call for a video recording to be made (e.g. assisting a member of the public, downtime, breaks, etc.)

This means policies created by agencies must be careful to not over-extend the reach of body cameras where it will become a financial concern (such as constant recording, which would add to storage costs), but use the devices only where necessary as determined by policy based on informed research.

In the UK this means that all police forces are able to record inside peoples homes regardless, yet in the USA privacy laws differ to that of the UK. Due to scale, agencies are largely responsible for producing guidelines as informed by state legislature which varies on different levels across the board and can ultimately have unexpected consequences such as Washington’s blanket requests for all video footage to be made public.

Constitutions in 10 states—Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina and Washington—have explicit provisions relating to a right to privacy as outlined by NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures).

The American Civil Liberties Union identifies 5 key aspects of policy that agencies should consider, making suggestions to policy makers under these themes: notice (informing individuals recording is taking place), when to record, retention, disclosure, and academic and social science integration to study impact.

This is part of the reason for the various bills which have been tabled in recent months calling for restrictions on where officers can film, often encompassing private residences and where sensitive information could be easily captured by the devices, in addition to sensitive physical situations (such as victims of rape).

For example Florida recently passed the following legislation:

Law Enforcement Officer Body Cameras: Requires law enforcement agency that permits its officers to wear body cameras to establish policies & procedures addressing proper use, maintenance, & storage of body cameras & data recorded by body cameras; requires such policies & procedures to include specified information; requires such law enforcement agency to ensure that specified personnel are trained; requires that data recorded by body cameras be retained in accordance with specified requirements; requires periodic review of agency body camera practices to ensure conformity with policies & procedures. (Effective Date: January 1, 2016)

Additionally, at the tail end of January 2015, members of the North Dakota House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would exempt police body camera footage of the inside of a private place from a public record request.

Click here to view the Hampshire Constabulary BWV Privacy Impact Assessment.

See these resources for further information on procedures and guidelines.



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