Surprise - Tech Liberty okay about cops with cameras. Here's why

UK cops with chest-mounted body cams


Chris Keall

The government will discuss frontline police wearing small cameras on their uniforms, the Herald reports.

The idea caught Justice Minister Judith Collins' attention while she was in Britain, where she was told about a trial. The UK pilot found that use of "body worn video devices" led to an increase in the proportion of crimes where the offender was brought to justice compared with incidents where the cameras were not used.

But at what cost to our privacy? 

I put the police body cam question to Tech Liberty founder and NZ Council for Civil Liberties executive committee member Thomas Beagle. Given Beagle is a ferocious critic of most forms of surveillance, I was expecting a hostile response. 

Not so.

Tech Liberty members have disccussed the issue and "In general we think that the Police wearing cameras will be a good thing for both Police and those they interact with," he says.

"In theory both should behave a little bit better knowing that their interaction is being recorded, leading to less cases of people abusing/assaulting Police as well as less cases of Police abusing their powers"

However, there are a number of "thorny edge" cases around their use, Mr Beagle adds.

For example: 

  • Who will have access to the recorded images?
  • Will people be able to request a copy of the footage of their interaction with Police if they want to make a complaint?
  • How will Police be able to maintain personal privacy when they are, for example, going to the toilet? If they can turn the cameras off, what will be in place to stop this being abused?
  • How long will footage be kept?
  • What rights do people who appear in the footage have to control its use? (Is it acceptable for the Police to hand any footage to the news media when it suits them?)
  • Other countries have already been looking into these issues, and New Zealand should definitely take advantage of what they've found as we develop our own policies.

"Ultimately, we cautiously approve of such moves but want to make sure that we do it right. Tech Liberty would be glad to help the Police in developing these policies," Mr Beagle says.

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