Sound Off Shouting

Thousands of police officers are wearing small body cameras to record their dealings with the public, but the nationwide rollout raises privacy concerns.

A big reason why? The “lack of clear guidelines on the cameras’ use could potentially undermine departments’ goals of creating greater accountability of officers and jeopardize the privacy of both the public and law enforcement officers,” according to a .

The small cameras fit on an officer’s lapel, sunglasses or chest. The intention is to record the daily interactions officers have with the public in an effort to reduce false complaints and costly litigation.

The concept isn’t entirely new. Police use cameras on the dashboards of their patrol cars, and the footage often exonerates them in cases. Advances in technology and data storage have taken this idea a step further so that now officers in one of every six departments use the body cameras on patrol, according to Scott Greenwood, general counsel for the national American Civil Liberties Union.

There are a number of privacy concerns, however. First, the officers aren’t properly trained to use the cameras. Second, they don’t have clear and established policies for this use of technology. Other standard privacy and InfoSec questions:

•  Who stores the video long-term? Is it law enforcement (the government) or a third party?
•  How is access to the video secured?
•  How long are these video encounters retained?
•  How does this fit into existing data retention policies?
•  Are videos released after suspects have been found innocent or released without charge?
• How does this video footage work with the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and state public access to government information regulations that exist in all 50 states? Does it even fall under these?

Other issues may come up depending upon the  different approaches to FOIA taken across the country. In 2000, Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio implemented a in Madison Street Jail, which processed and housed pre-trial detainees. The 24-hour live web feed of the booking area got millions of hits online, but was eventually taken down after the courts determined the of detainees.

While the feed was more entertaining on a Saturday night then the second half of Saturday Night Live, it’s important to note the privacy issues it raised. Anti-jailcam arguments claimed that by showing people under arrest, in theory they were exposed to an assumption of guilt. A worse-case scenario: Your boss is watching and sees you getting booked into jail, when turns out it was your twin brother, or just a mistaken arrest, etc.

That said, there are many advantages to police video footage. The main one: It keeps everyone from the citizen to the officer honest. An important requirement, however, is that citizens should be allowed access to the video regardless of whether they’re charged of a crime or released.

As this develops, it will be important for citizens to know they’re being recorded and to be told by the officer; consent to it if that is a feasible approach (not likely in this case); to have full access to the video for a period of time; know it is being secured; to know it is not being kept unnecessarily; and finally to be assured that it is will eventually be destroyed .

Eduard Goodman is chief privacy officer at IDentity Theft 911.

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