Today the Leadership Conference and Upturn unveiled a scorecard of body cam policies of more than 25 US police departments. The scorecard ranks agencies’ body cam policies based on eight criteria derived from the Leadership Conference’s Civil Rights Principles on Body Worn Cameras, several of which are dedicated to protecting privacy. For example, the scorecard measures whether an agency’s body cam policy protects vulnerable individuals from being recorded without consent, limits the use of biometric technologies, and places a general limit on the agency’s retention of footage. The results, available on the scorecard website, are mixed on both privacy and transparency.
CDT believes that body-worn cameras have good potential to improve community relations with police. Body cameras can help to deter police misconduct, aid the victims of police misconduct, and exonerate those mistakenly accused of police misconduct. However, body cameras can also be used as powerful new surveillance tools, turning officers into walking data-gathering platforms. CDT has supported the use of body cameras, but cautioned against deployment of the technology without proper consideration of privacy safeguards. How law enforcement agencies use body cameras will make a significant impact on whether they weaken community trust rather than enhance it.
To address this challenge, the Leadership Conference, working with a broad coalition of public interest groups that includes CDT, issued the Civil Rights Principles on Body Worn Cameras in May of 2015. The Principles emphasize the need for law enforcement agencies to develop body camera policies in a transparent manner with community involvement, and to make footage available to promote accountability. The Principles also recognize the privacy issues at stake, emphasizing the need to focus the use of body cameras to specific purposes, limiting the use of biometrics such as facial recognition, and developing clear policies for recording and retention that respect privacy interests (such as shielding victims of domestic violence).
We commend the Leadership Conference for developing these principles to encourage responsible rollout of body cameras in police departments nationwide. The scorecard will enhance this effort considerably – providing communities with insight into how their law enforcement agencies use body cameras, and creating a common set of criteria with which communities can create their own scorecards. Hopefully, with time and community involvement, the scorecards will show greater alignment between police departments’ body cam policies and the Civil Rights Principles on Body Worn Cameras.