Mar 02 2015
A recent statement issued by the federal, territorial, and provincial privacy commissioners urged caution when equipping police with body cameras.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada issued a statement alongside a set of guidelines to help law enforcement agencies develop policies and procedures governing the use of body-worn videos (BWV).
“There are clearly benefits to the use of body-worn cameras, however, there are also significant privacy implications. 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,” stated Daniel Therrien, privacy commissioner of Canada.
Therrien’s office is responsible for enforcing the RCMP’s compliance with the federal privacy act.
The guidelines called upon policing agencies to evaluate whether the benefits of wearing the cameras outweigh privacy and personal information concerns.
Commissioners from across the country asked the police to conduct a privacy impact assessment prior to implementation to help identify and mitigate the potential risks to privacy and personal information. They also called on law enforcement to consult with data protection experts and undertake a pilot project before implementing the technology.
“We’re recommending that they do a pilot project first and from a privacy prospective, it’s good to do privacy when you’re designing your program and drawing up your policy. It shouldn’t take very long ... if you start and build privacy from the beginning it shouldn’t add to how long it takes you to develop that policy,” said Mel Holley, Acting Manitoba Ombudsman.
According to an RCMP spokesperson in Ottawa, research on BWV technology within the RCMP has been going on for a number of years with pilot studies in the Codiac region of New Brunswick and in Kelowna, B.C.
Currently, the RCMP is using BWVs during cadet training at Depot in Regina as part of a feasibility study.
“The trials being conducted at the RCMP Training Academy, Depot, will assist in evaluating potential officer safety issues related to the feasibility of law enforcement use of this technology,” stated the spokesperson. “The low risk Depot training environment gives the RCMP an opportunity to evaluate the camera technology during scenarios involving all aspects of physical use of force, ranging from lethal confrontations to low risk interventions.”
The project is being run by Contract and Aboriginal Policing’s National Use of Force program in Ottawa with results expected to be released sometime this spring.
Sgt. Brian Brewer from the Portage la Prairie detachment said officers are open to wearing BWVs and agreed that issues of privacy need to be worked out first. “The biggest issue that you keep hearing is (regarding) the public. Where every interaction they have with the police, (the force) wants it recorded and there’s going to be some privacy concerns so I think it would have some benefit to officers when it comes to court and recording what happened, but by the same token you have to balance it.
“I know the big debate right now is with citizen’s privacy rights. I’m not sure all of our population would be too happy with every interaction with police being recorded because they’re going to want to know where that’s going and who’s going to have access and those kinds of things, but I can see some positives to it,” he said. Brewer said recording devices inside of cruisers are already capturing police interaction with criminals and the general public.
One of the issues highlighted by the commissioners guidelines is safeguarding data by implementing encryption, restricted access and strict storage periods.
“If they decided to go that route, they would have to come up with a system of how you’ll keep the data — on a computer or a disk — and how long you’ll keep it for, because you run into a problem down the road when if you remove the data after six months and it becomes relevant later on when you didn’t think it would be .... Those are technical avenues that would have to be sorted out,” he said.
Brewer noted camera data captured from the cruiser cameras in the early days of recording devices within the RCMP would only be kept for 60 days on VHS tape before it was destroyed. Today, that data is stored on a disk and is held for longer periods of time.
A variety of storage options, associated costs, security requirements, and the size of the video data collected are currently being examined by the RCMP, according to the RCMP spokesperson.
In 2013, more than 50 BWVs were worn by officers in Edmonton with mixed results. According to the Edmonton Sun, officers found managing the data resource-intensive and often police officers had questions over when it was appropriate to film.
In 2012, the Calgary police department began a 10-month pilot project that outfitted 50 officers with BWV technology. The cameras gathered 2,700 digital video clips during that time. The department is expected to provide these cameras to 550 officers within the first quarter of 2015 at an estimated cost ranging between $275,000 to $550,000, depending on the technology.
In 2014, about 100 police officers in Toronto wore BWVs as part of a one year pilot study with results expected to be released sometime next year. Winnipeg Police Services are currently considering a BWV pilot project within its ranks.
According to an interview with the Winnipeg Sun, Maurice Sabourin, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, was skeptical on the use of BWVs because he feels it opens officers up to criticism. “That officer would be scrutinized 10 times worse for not turning the camera on, for forgetting to turn it on, or thinking he turned it on,” said Sabourin. “A lot of people aren’t sympathetic to clearing the officer. I think it is more misconduct that they are trying to capture.”
Other issues highlighted in the guidelines include public awareness that officers are wearing BWV technology; policies and procedures to address issues such as accountability, employee training and the handling of individual’s requests for access to recordings; criteria for activating cameras should address the need to minimize the recording of bystanders or harmless interactions with the public; the use of recordings for secondary uses, such as officer training, to ensure the protection of privacy and personal information; and using BWVs for video analytic technologies such as facial recognition, licence plate recognition, and pattern recognition in terms of privacy.
“Privacy implications must be carefully considered given the complex privacy issues surrounding BWV usage by law enforcement. As required by federal privacy legislation, a privacy impact assessment (PIA) is being completed,” stated the RCMP spokesperson.