Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems

When Cameras Are Rolling: Privacy Implications of Body-Mounted Cameras on Police

Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems

When Cameras Are Rolling: Privacy Implications of Body-Mounted Cameras on Police

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

Imagine you are in your home with friends when an altercation erupts. You are worried for the safety of the individuals involved, as well for the bystanders. You decide to dial 911, and soon police are at your door. Imagine you are the victim of a violent sexual assault by a stranger in a public park. After the perpetrator leaves, you are traumatized emotionally and injured, but you decide to reach for your cellphone to call 911 to request medical attention and report the attack. Imagine you are a police officer on patrol with your partner. During a lull in activity, he tells you he thinks he might have uncovered evidence of corruption in the force, but he is worried about the blow-back if he reports it. You have had similar suspicions for some time, and you decide to tell your partner that he should report it.

Now imagine that in all of the above scenarios, you knew that the police officers were wearing body-mounted cameras with audio-recording capability. You are unsure of how long the footage is stored and how it is used, and whether it could be released to the public. The presence of the camera would certainly influence your decision-making. Policies and laws governing the use of body-mounted cameras and the footage created by body-mounted cameras will impact the behavior of members of the public and individual police officers. It is imperative that the policies governing body-mounted cameras are chosen with careful consideration of these practical factors.

Currently, however, although there are some pre-existing legal restrictions on the use of body-mounted cameras and the footage they produce, the policies of police departments vary widely. The First and Fourth Amendments, state "Freedom of Information" acts, and state wiretapping statutes all limit the use of video recording by law enforcement, however, the case law and statutes were not written with body-cameras in mind, leaving significant gaps between what is sound policy and what is legal. Policies and legislation addressing the use of body-mounted cameras should consider a multitude of factors, including the potential for embarrassment and harm to individual members of the public, the chilling effect on free speech, the effect on interactions between police officers and the public, and the privacy rights of police officers.

In Part II, this Note briefly discusses the recent endorsement of body-mounted cameras on police and their adoption by police departments, describes the technological capabilities of bodycameras, and outlines how they compare to other forms of video surveillance and how these differences give rise to new policy questions and legal uses. In Part III, this Note outlines the policy concerns behind these recommendations, which include the more invasive nature of body-worn cameras, the release of footage to the public, the use of footage in dragnet style policing, the effect on interactions with the public and free speech, and the invasion of the privacy of police officers. This Note then summarizes and compares three sets of recommendations for the use of body-worn cameras: one by the American Civil Liberties Union, one by the Police Executive Research Forum, and one created by the City of New York. In Part IV, this Note outlines the current legal limits on law enforcement use of video surveillance. Specifically, this Part discusses the Fourth Amendment limitations on bodycameras in the home, and on the use of compiled body-camera footage. In Part V, this Note will outline recommendations for the implementation of body-worn cameras.

II. Background

To understand the policy implications of potential body-worn cameras, it is important to understand the social context in which the call for body-worn cameras has arisen, the technological capabilities of body-worn cameras, and the differences between body-worn cameras and existing video surveillance methods.


In response to recent events, both activists and the general public have turned their attention to police accountability. …

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