The proliferation of camera phones, advances in surveillance technology, and the emergence of social media have changed the way people view privacy, contributing to the sense that, as Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey of Philadelphia said, it sometimes feels as though “everyone is filming everybody.” As technology advances and expectations of privacy evolve, it is critical that law enforcement agencies carefully consider how the technology they use affects the public’s privacy rights, especially when courts have not yet provided guidance on these issues.

Body-worn cameras raise many privacy issues that have not been considered before. Unlike many traditional surveillance methods, body-worn cameras can simultaneously record both audio and video and capture close-up images that allow for the potential use of facial recognition technology. In addition, while stationary surveillance cameras generally cover only public spaces, body-worn cameras give officers the ability to record inside private homes and to film sensitive situations that might emerge during calls for service.

There is also concern about how the footage from body-worn cameras might be stored and used. For example, will a person be able to obtain video that was recorded inside a neighbor’s home? Will agencies keep videos indefinitely? Is it possible that the body-worn camera footage might be improperly posted online?

When implementing body-worn cameras, law enforcement agencies must balance these privacy considerations with the need for transparency of police operations, accurate documentation of events, and evidence collection. This means making careful decisions about when officers will be required to activate cameras, how long recorded data should be retained, who has access to the footage, who owns the recorded data, and how to handle internal and external requests for disclosure.

Read the full report here: By Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice: Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned.