Home > Body Worn Cameras, Future of Privacy, Privacy, Sousveillance > How body worn cameras help police as well as the public

How body worn cameras help police as well as the public

(c) Glogger

Following my last post about complete transparency of information to increase privacy the idea to record everything in our lives is intriguing. Something like surveillance of our personal lives. In police work this seems to be the near future, similar to Charles Stross‘s description in his novel Halting State (which is set in 2018). There, everything a police officer sees is recorded, wirelessly uploaded and indexed for future reference and proof. Body worn cameras are already used by police in the US and UK and there is a number of producers of such devices (e.g. TASER recently introduced stylish new Oakley glasses with cameras). From a police point of view it makes sense to have proof of all events for later use. However, it surprised me to read that human right groups endorse such measures and even demand that police wear such cameras. The campaigning group whennooneswatching.org with their four fingers campaign demand that all police officers must have cameras attached, that these must be switched on when interacting with the public and that this data must be made available on request. The aim is to reduce police brutality and to have proof of brutal police officers. However, as IPVM points out(subscription-based access), opponents argue that body worn cameras might cause officer hesitation due to fear of scrutiny and thus risk his or her life. I think this argument is flawed. If certain actions are necessary in police work they should be regulated within reason and if not they should be forbidden. In any case, police officers have to act within the law and thus should not be afraid of scrutiny. But body worn systems still have some drawbacks that have to be solved before they can be used to protect victims as the four fingers campaign envisions it:

  • They have to be “always on”: Due to low battery life these systems have to be switched on when the officer sees fit. This has two disadvantages: First, the officer cannot concentrate on his job and instead has to deal with the device. Second, it is very likely that an officer will turn off the device if he or she thinks the video might incriminate him.
  • They have to be “live”: Today, the videos can only be used forensically and are not uploaded on the fly (LTE might change that). Thus, the material can easily be altered afterwards.
  • Access to videos: Access to videos for persons involved in an incident has to be allowed and have to be easy to manage.

I believe body worn cameras for police are just the first step. It gets really exciting when everyone records every event in their lives (does anyone remember justin.tv? Yes, it still exists!). Thus, no one has an advantage or disadvantage of information. In fact, anyone can do that already today, lifeloggers even made somewhat of a sport out of it. This concept is generally referred to as sousveillance, i.e. the inverse of surveillance (which deserves a blog post by itself). So if you are motivated to start lifelogging now, there are a number of products available that offer functionality to record everything we see (check out this not-so-cool device). However, I doubt that it is legally ok to film strangers without informing them.

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