Smile! You’re on Cop Cam!


Seattle police have made the decision to adopt body cameras, but this means they need to find an automated way to blur out things like faces and license plate numbers before the footage becomes public. Dara Lind comments:

But as police departments move cop cams into the field, the an important question becomes whether there are things that shouldn’t be recorded to protect civilians’ privacy. And if so, who controls the footage?….As reported in Slate, the programmers that participated in the hackathon focused on ways to automatically redact police footage so that, for example, civilians’ faces and license plate numbers were blurred.

The fundamental appeal of automatic redaction for a city government is pretty clear. If you can write an automated program that takes care of any privacy concerns, you can release body-camera footage to the public en masse. Without an automated solution, the city would have to rely on the police department to edit the footage — which opens the door to manipulation.

En masse? I wonder where this leads? If I get pulled over for speeding in Seattle, the encounter will be saved on video. Does that get released to anyone who wants to see it? Does every encounter with a police officer become public? How long will police departments be required to save video records? What kind of indexing requirements will be imposed? Will they all be accessible as public records via Freedom of Information requests?

These are good questions to ponder. Body cameras for police forces are a good idea, but there are downsides as well as upsides.