Police use of body cams has serious privacy implications: watchdogs
By The Canadian PressNews Public Sector
The country's federal and provincial privacy watchdogs are urging police departments to ponder the risks to privacy before they start equipping officers with body-worn cameras.
The federal privacy commissioner and privacy and personal information protection officials across the country have produced a guidance document on the subject.
The document says police should consider whether the expected benefits from the use of such cameras outweigh the impact on privacy and personal information.
It suggests that police assess the overall risks to privacy and consider using pilot projects before embracing the widespread use of such cameras.
Police should also make sure that people are informed when a camera program is introduced.
The guidelines also say people should be told when police are recording encounters.
There are a number of other concerns addressed by the privacy watchdogs. For instance, they say recordings should be safeguarded with measures such as encryption, restricted access and strict retention periods.
There should be policies and procedures to address issues such as accountability, employee training and the handling of requests by individuals for access to recordings.
And the rules for using cameras should minimize the recording of innocent bystanders and innocuous interactions between police and public.
“We believe that addressing privacy considerations from the outset can allow an appropriate balance to be achieved between the needs of law enforcement and the privacy rights of individuals,” the documents say.
Privacy officials say it’s an important debate.
“There are clearly benefits to the use of body-worn cameras; however, there are also significant privacy implications,” said Daniel Therrien, the federal privacy commissioner.
“Given this, and as more and more policing organizations consider adopting this technology, we are encouraging them to address those privacy issues upfront to ensure they strike the right balance between law enforcement needs and the privacy rights of Canadians.”
Brian Beamish, Ontario’s acting information and privacy commissioner, said the guidance provided will give police a better understanding of the privacy considerations surrounding the issue.
“Law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to implement body-worn cameras in a manner that respects privacy and complies with the law,” he said.
Body cameras are seen as an important tool for gathering evidence, but there are also suggestions that their use might reduce the number of public complaints about police behaviour and reduce the use of force by officers.
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