Cop cam raises privacy issues

June 8, 2012 |

In today’s Age there is a story of police trialing Cop Cam’s, minature video cameras which will record police interactions with the public. It is found here.

It provides:

POLICE will record their interactions with the public on video and audio equipment attached to their uniforms under a trial program aimed at improving transparency.

The so-called uniform cams, which are common in the United States, will be tested out by police in the southern region of Melbourne, which takes in areas such as Dandenong, Cranbourne, the Mornington Peninsula and bayside suburbs.

The trial is consistent with a trend towards more surveillance of police work. Some highway patrol cars are already fitted with video devices and cameras will be fitted to Tasers, which will become standard issue.

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The police union has slammed the trial, saying it could make members of the public reluctant to share information with police, and that information gathered could be used against officers in court.

But Liberty Victoria, which has a history of campaigning against the proliferation of surveillance cameras, said it could see some benefits.

Police Association assistant secretary Bruce McKenzie said the cameras could undermine public trust in police and called on members not to volunteer for the trial, which it said was the first of its kind in Australia.

”We have serious concerns that when the public is made aware that their conversations with police officers may be electronically recorded, that it will lead to a lack of trust and perhaps a reluctance to pass on information relating to alleged criminal behaviour,” Inspector McKenzie said in a statement.

”We also believe that there is a risk that this initiative could be used to the detriment of our members in court when it comes to the information gathered by these devices.”

Liberty Victoria president Spencer Zifcak said there were pros and cons with the cameras.

He said one benefit would be that people could have a ”permanent record of any abusive, intimidating or violent interaction between police and members of the public”.

But Professor Zifcak said he would be concerned if the equipment were used for undercover surveillance. He said there would have to be strict legal guidelines on use of the recordings and how long they were kept, suggesting they should be discarded after 12 months.

The police union said the plan should be scrapped and the money spent on video cameras for all police cars. In-car video cameras can be activated by police, or come on automatically with the vehicle’s flashing lights or siren.

The Age revealed last year that footage from a police car was used to successfully prosecute two officers in northern Victoria for bashing and kicking two men they had pulled over.

Victoria Police confirmed the uniform trial, but did not say when it would start or provide details on the actual equipment. A spokeswoman said it was envisaged the recording devices would not be operating at all times, but that they would be switched on at the discretion of the officer. She said notice would always be given to members of the public when the cameras were switched on.

”The proposed trial is designed to test the benefits of the technology and inform any future development of policy and procedures around the use of these devices,” she said. ”The concept is still in the development stage and yet to be implemented.”

The use of police cameras is ubiquitous in the United States. Video of interactions, usually dramatic changes or conflict, make their way into various reality police shows. The United States has far fewer privacy protections than Australia, whose privacy protections are patchy and often inadequate. To avoid privacy breaches the implementation of police cameras across the police service will need careful planning.  This must involve establishing proper guidelines and monitoring of compliance.  And punishment for transgressions.  The transparency benefits are clear and probably for the good. Having an exchange recorded may avoid or at least minimise the “he said, she said” arguments that are commonly dealt with by the courts.  And it is a curb on rogue cop behaviour, an instance of which was identified in the article above.  Just as transcripts of interview was a revoluationary improvement over the typed interview (which could often be a vague precis of what occurred during an interview), usage of video/audio of a crtical incident could be a very significant aid in any proceeding.  But there needs to be safeguards.  It is the usage of the data after any exchange that is the cause for privacy concerns. Clearly a police are covered under the information Privacy Act. Unfortunately the misuse of the LEAP  system over the years means that extra care will need to be taken in protecting an individual’s privacy.


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