LNS Counsel Michael Price recently testified before the New York State Assembly Committees on Codes, Judiciary, and Governmental Operations on the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) by law enforcement. The Brennan Center’s testimony noted the potential of BWCs to improve police accountability, but also highlighted some of the privacy considerations in assessing the impact of this technology.
As the testimony noted, BWCs may have a significant impact on increasing police accountability. However, their use also dramatically increases law enforcement’s surveillance capabilities. The testimony raised three key privacy issues—namely, data collection, retention and access—framed in the context of a multi-city study of BWC policies nationwide conducted by the Brennan Center, designed to inform policy and policymakers alike on best practices for their use. The Brennan Center’s testimony discussed the need for policymakers to develop consistent standards and rules on when they should or should not be required to collect and record data; on which footage is retained, for what length of time, and the review process that goes into making such decisions; and rules governing the accessibility of BWC footage—both for law enforcement, in terms of sharing data with other agencies, and for the public, through New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The testimony underlines the need to balance privacy with police accountability where BWCs are concerned, and concluded that more “intensive consideration, expert advice, and public input” is necessary in answering the privacy considerations raised, before BWCs are implemented further.