Privacy Ref Blog

Police, Body Cameras, Privacy, and Policy

In the recent past a local police officer was involved in a shooting resulting in a citizen’s death. Soon after, the cry of “if only there was a body camera we would know what happened” was heard. I agree. However any police department needs to put policies in place to protect citizens’ privacy when cameras are used. Similarly, businesses using monitoring technologies need to put policies in place as well.

Dissuading suicide and privacy

A portion of police activities involve citizens who are at a low point in their lives. Public intoxication, threats to injure oneself or others, or other acts that draw police attention often reveal emotions, statements, and actions that people would prefer to be kept between the officer and themselves. If body cameras are used then all of these situations will be recorded. Once the video is recorded, it must be secured so the privacy of these citizens is protected.

I am not referring to illegal actions in the above statement. To clarify, I’ve heard of one police officer who talked a young man out of committing suicide. This was a stellar moment in the officer’s career that should be celebrated, a high point for his department, but a low point for that young man. The department posted the video from that encounter to show the good work the department was involved with after blurring the face of the young man and redacting his name when used in conversation.

However, the encounter took place in the young man’s room. There was enough items displayed on the walls and on the shelves for other members of the community to identify the young man. In spite of the efforts of the police department, the young man remained identifiable. Even though a police officer was involved, making this a public event, I suggest that, in spite of all good attempts, the privacy of the young man was violated.

Video and after the fact searches

When an officer enters a room to address a situation, the focus is on the event happening before them. The camera, however, takes in a much wider view of the environment. The actions of others in the room and the items that are in clear sight are all captured by the camera.

There are good, valid reasons to review the video at a later time. However, to analyze the video with the intent to detect illegal activity or “search the room” for things that may have been missed by the officer’s eye, I suggest, is a privacy violation as well.

People do not have the opportunity to object to the use of cameras when the police are involved. So, are you inviting in an officer to address a situation or are you inviting in the officer and video analysts as well.

Policies need to be established by police departments using body cameras to balance the capture of evidence with the protection of citizen’s privacy. This is not dissimilar to what businesses need to do with respect to monitoring activities employers undertake.

How does this apply to business?

Businesses have various mechanisms for monitoring the actions of their employees. Cameras, id badges with RFID chips, eDiscovery, network traffic monitors, facial recognition, and GPSs are just a few of the mechanisms. There is good reason to do this and, given the right policies, I endorse these practices. However, the policies are the key.

Provide notice to your employees as to what monitoring may be done, how the collect information may be used, and commit to protecting the privacy of any personal activities captured that do not effect the business’s health.

Privacy Ref provides consulting and assessment services to build and improve organizational privacy programs. For more information call Privacy Ref at (888) 470-1528 or email us at info@privacyref.com

Posted on October 29, 2015 by Bob Siegel
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