Quoted: Privacy concerns over police body cameras

“Everyone’s worst day is now going to be put on YouTube for eternity.”

Steven Strachan, police chief in Bremerton, Washington, says he decided not to buy body cameras for his department of 71 officers partly because of privacy concerns. “Our view is we don’t want to be part of violating people’s privacy for commercial or voyeuristic reasons.”

As politicians and others push for police body cams amid questions about police misconduct, Strachan’s concern is shared by many others. Police-involved shootings and killings have been recorded on video. But body cams would capture all kinds of police interaction with the public, and what to do with that footage brings up privacy issues galore.

For example, it’s not easy to redact information from video without going through it frame by frame.

“If you just put a swirl blur on somebody’s face, it’s not very difficult to unswirl that blur, and then all of a sudden it’s un-redacted,” Emily Shaw, national policy manager at the Sunlight Foundation, told the Atlantic.

Other privacy issues: Who gets access to the videos? Should everyone who appears in a video be allowed access? What is the public allowed to see — do public-records laws apply? What about those who could be harmed because of such videos?

“The issue challenges the assumption that everything that happens in public should be public,” James McMahan, policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, told the New York Times. “But I don’t know that we want a woman standing there with bruises and scratches and other signs of domestic violence to be posted on YouTube. The instance of her being posted online forever might be a greater crisis than the original incident.”


Photo: Officer Jon Low of the Oakland Police Department wears a lapel-mounted video camera in 2010. (Jane Tyska/Oakland Tribune archives)


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