Do Body Cameras Infringe Upon Privacy?
Body cameras have been utilised by UK Police Constabularies for over a decade, establishing themselves as an essential tool in policing. The implementation of body cameras has reduced complaints against officers by 90% (Rialto) and reduced the amount of assaults on officers by a third (Operation Hyperion). Body cameras are being increasingly used by both police and local government authorities to safeguard officials, however, their rising presence has raised some critical attention surrounding privacy.
The 2016 Violence at Work Survey by UNISON reported a rise of 20,000 to 40,000 violent assaults per year in the last decade (2006-2016). The increase in violent crimes against Council Enforcement Offices (CEOs) has meant that councils such as Bath and Oldham have turned to body worn video to protect staff. The NEPP, North Essex, stated that only 9 out of the reported 28 violent or aggressive incidents concerning CEOs resulted in any police action in 2015 due to a lack of evidence. The body cameras provide CEOs, who often deal with members of the public, with an evidence gathering tool.
Privacy activist groups have scrutinised some councils for their implementation of body worn video without prior completion of a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA). The PIAs aim to evaluate the effect of body worn video on the public. Currently, there is no obligation for a council to complete a PIA before using body worn video under wither the UK Home Office’s Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, nor the Information Commissioner’s CCTV Code of Practice. However, 44% of UK councils voluntarily conducted a PIA prior to using body worn video.
PIA's are designed to answer and resolve some of the questions that the privacy activist groups have recently highlighted. An issue commonly raised is the idea of unnecessary, ongoing surveillance which could infringe upon innocent members of the public’s privacy. However, it is important to note that body cameras are not necessarily always recording. This sets unnecessary invasion of privacy at a minimum. Instead, the record function (particularly in the case of Reveal’s body cameras, but many other manufacturers as well), is operated at the discretion of the official using the body camera, generally when the officer feels that a situation will escalate and could become verbally or physically abusive.
The PIA form also makes the user aware of Article 8 under the Human Rights Act, which gives an individual the right to a private life in terms of family, home and correspondence, without interference by a public authority, except in the case that it is necessary for national security, public safety, the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of crime, the protection of health or morals and for the protection of rights and freedom of others.
The PIA also addresses the user’s retention policy, which is the length of time in which a user keeps the body camera footage.
Reveal’s D-Series Body Cameras are AES-256 bit encrypted, and footage can only be decrypted via upload to the accompanying Digital Evidence Management Software (DEMS). DEMS is typically installed on local drives at the premise of the users, for example at the police station of the police force that are using the body cameras, and a SHA256 hash value is created when footage is uploaded to ensure that the file is the original and has not been edited.
Reveal's Digital Evidence Management Software, called DEMS 360, has a fully customisable user level access permissions matrix, which allows administrators to restrict access, so that footage can be stored securely. You can find out more about the security of DEMS 360 here.
Footage can be stored on Reveal’s DEMS 360 for a minimum of 30 days, and erased afterwards. Footage may be kept longer if the user deems it necessary, such as in the case that the footage becomes essential evidence in a criminal proceeding. It is reported that currently, only 48 out of 227 UK councils store footage for longer than 31 days. Reveal offers support and guidance documents to all customers surrounding retention policies.
Body worn video has proved to be a worthwhile investment all over the globe. Michael Groenewaldt of Darebin City Council, Australia, claimed that body worn video had paid for itself within 3 months, and Paisley and Aberdeen, UK, found that body worn video reduced costs by £50,000 in court, police and prosecutions during a pilot phase. It is estimated that the total savings could have amounted to £140,000, if applied across all departments.
Body worn video also has less tangible benefits such as the reduction of violent attacks on staff, such as reducing the overall amount of attacks on police officers by a third. Benefits such as this have knock-on effects, for example, less sick days are taken by staff as a result of injuries sustained at work, and an increase in staff morale. Grampian Police also found that the number of serious assault cases dropped by 60% with the implementation of body worn video.
Body worn video has contributed to the increased safety of police officers and with 58% of UK councils now using, trialling or having previously trialled body worn video, it looks as though it is set to impact UK councils. The infringement of privacy is kept to a minimum through controlled recording functions, secure storage and a clear, informed retention policy.
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