Big Data – Surveillance and Body Cameras

Written by Deema Al-Masri Sosebee, Ha Eun Bumm, Frederic Lübbert, Jang Seob Yoon

 

When questioning big data and surveillance, a primary concern is whether the resources poured into surveillance are being used effectively and efficiently. There is an ongoing trend in increasing video surveillance in cities and institutions, for reasons of security, accountability, or both, and one of the institutions under recent observation is the police force, especially in the United States.

The lack of accountability and transparency of the American police force has recently become a largely debated issue, especially as in recent years, videos of police brutality that is in large part against minorities have been released at an intermittent pace, with seemingly few viable solutions to stop the incidents from occurring. Additionally, these videos and violent confrontations of the police force have raised questions about the accountability of the police force for their actions, as a vast majority of fatal police shootings are considered ‘justified homicides’[1].

While the solutions to the underlying causes of this police brutality are very complex and nuanced processes, one suggestion for increasing police accountability was to require police officers to wear body cameras while on the front lines in the field. Studies about the effectiveness of police body cameras in increasing police transparency and accountability have concluded that the monitoring of the police force has resulted in less complaints about police, as well as less incidents in which force was used. Both the public and police officers modify their behavior once they know it is being recorded by a body camera, and thus the cameras deescalate tense situations in the field, as well as improve evidence collection[2] [3]. A Cambridge study found that after 12 months of wearing body cameras, complaints against the police dropped by 93%[4]. This contrasts the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s findings that the general trend is an increase in police complaints[5].Another study from the University of South Florida that conducted a year-long trial of body cameras on some police officers in the Orlando Police Department, found that the officers that wore body cameras filed 53% less ‘use-of-force’ incidents, and saw a 65% decline in civilian complaints against them[6]. Additionally, two in three officers in the Orlando study said that they would want to continue the use of body cameras in the future[7].

While these are great improvements due to the body cameras, the cameras are only truly effective if the officers and departments are not given control over them. The transparency sought by the public can be denied if the police departments are given the option not to release the footage, as what happened in Los Angeles at the death of Charly Keunang, in which a homeless man attacked police officers, was thought to have a gun, and was fatally shot[8]. The department has refused to release these videos unless in a criminal or civil court proceeding, even though there is much controversy surrounding whether Keunang was armed or not[9]. The option to withhold camera footage is especially dangerous as the police department can decide to use the footage for its own benefit rather than the community’s, which renders the body camera as a device at the department’s disposal rather than a tool to reduce violence in the field. Additionally, if the cameras have the ability to be activated and deactivated at will of the officer, there is a chance that this will be abused and more important instances will be left out of the footage, as happened in Washington DC when Terrence Sterling was shot after running his motorcycle into a police car, and the body cameras were not activated until after the incident[10].

Yet the lack of police control over the body cameras brings up important questions about privacy for both the officer and the public, especially for victims of crime[11]. The best solution towards relieving departments of footage control while respecting privacy is to have strictly enforced guidelines for the use of these cameras written with the input of both the officers and the public.

In conclusion, the trend of increasing dissatisfaction with police accountability and transparency in the United States and elsewhere is a complex issue that is trying to use big data and surveillance as a solution. This surveillance takes the form of officers on the front lines wearing body cameras, which have proven to decrease complaints about police officers in different situations. However, when the departments and officers are given authority over the footage and activation of these cameras, they are rendered mostly useless. This is why it is necessary to have a public discussion about their usage, and draft strict nationwide rules governing their usage so that everyone benefits from being a part of big data and surveillance.

Works Cited

Feeney, Matthew. “Police Body Cameras.” PoliceMisconduct.net. N.p., 22 July 2015. Web. 16

Nov. 2016.

Ferner, Matt, and Nick Wing. “Here’s How Many Cops Got Convicted Of Murder Last Year For On-Duty Shootings. “The Huffington Post. N.p., 13 Jan. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Meyer, Robinson. “Body Cameras Are Betraying Their Promise.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 30 Sept. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Shaw, Danny. “Police Body Cameras ‘cut Complaints against Officers'” BBC News. N.p., 29

Sept. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Wing, Nick. “Here’s How Police Could End Up Making Body Cameras Mostly Useless. “The

Huffington Post. N.p., 10 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Wing, Nick. “Study Shows Less Violence, Fewer Complaints When Cops Wear Body Cameras.”The Huffington Post. N.p., 13 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

 

Citations in Text

[1] Ferner, Matt, and Nick Wing. “Here’s How Many Cops Got Convicted Of Murder Last Year For On-Duty Shootings.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 13 Jan. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

[2] Wing, Nick. “Study Shows Less Violence, Fewer Complaints When Cops Wear Body Cameras.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 13 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

[3] Shaw, Danny. “Police Body Cameras ‘cut Complaints against Officers'” BBC News. N.p., 29 Sept. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

[4] Shaw, Danny. “Police Body Cameras ‘cut Complaints against Officers'” BBC News. N.p., 29 Sept. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

[5] Shaw, Danny. “Police Body Cameras ‘cut Complaints against Officers'” BBC News. N.p., 29 Sept. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

[6] Wing, Nick. “Study Shows Less Violence, Fewer Complaints When Cops Wear Body Cameras.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 13 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

[7] Wing, Nick. “Study Shows Less Violence, Fewer Complaints When Cops Wear Body Cameras.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 13 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

[8] Wing, Nick. “Here’s How Police Could End Up Making Body Cameras Mostly Useless.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 10 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

[9] Wing, Nick. “Here’s How Police Could End Up Making Body Cameras Mostly Useless.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 10 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

[10] Meyer, Robinson. “Body Cameras Are Betraying Their Promise.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 30 Sept. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

[11] Feeney, Matthew. “Police Body Cameras.” PoliceMisconduct.net. N.p., 22 July 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

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7 thoughts on “Big Data – Surveillance and Body Cameras

  1. Well, when reading the second version of the ACLUs whitepaper suggesting the use of police body cameras, they are already very clear about the potential undesired consequences (especially privacy implications) and make a clear point, that they will support police body cameras only if they are technically designed to be as nonintrusive as possible (which is probably not going to happen). To give two cites of the ACLU (whose whitepaper has mainly produced the current discussion):

    “While we have opposed government video surveillance of public places, for example, we have supported the installation of video cameras on police car dashboards, in prisons, and during interrogations.

    At the same time, body cameras have more of a potential to invade privacy than those deployments. Police officers enter people’s homes and encounter bystanders, suspects, and victims in a wide variety of sometimes stressful and extreme situations.

    For the ACLU, the challenge of on-officer cameras is the tension between their potential to invade privacy and their strong benefit in promoting police accountability. Overall, we think they can be a win-winbut only if they are deployed within a framework of strong policies to ensure they protect the public without becoming yet another system for routine surveillance of the public, and maintain public confidence in the integrity of those privacy protections. Without such a framework, their accountability benefits would not exceed their privacy risks.”

    and later on with a more detailed description of the privacy implications:

    “Purely from an accountability perspective, the ideal policy for body-worn cameras would be for continuous recording throughout a police officer’s shift, eliminating any possibility that an officer could evade the recording of abuses committed on duty.

    The problem is that continuous recording raises many thorny privacy issues, for the public as well as for officers. For example, as the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) pointed out in their September 2014 report on body cameras, crime victims (especially victims of rape, abuse, and other sensitive crimes), as well as witnesses who are concerned about retaliation if seen cooperating with police, may have very good reasons for not wanting police to record their interactions. We agree, and support body camera policies designed to offer special privacy protections for these individuals.”

    Combined with the risk that these body cameras might in practise be combined with other equipment for instance google glasses, which might also be used to display information about individuals (see https://www.aclu.org/blog/chicago-police-heat-list-renews-old-fears-about-government-flagging-and-tagging for more details).

    All in all I don’t think that the benefits of body camaras would be worth the privacy costs, which should always be taken seriously as outlined here https://www.aclu.org/blog/plenty-hide?redirect=blog/technology-and-liberty-national-security/plenty-hide.

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  2. I think that surveillance cameras in public places may be abused. For example in form of voyeurism or even worse: if the regime changes and they have access to all the collected information that can end badly! –>East German history shows what is possible even without technologies of Big Data!
    Another controversy of the use of surveillance cameras in public places is that its effectiveness has not been proven. Even so we have more video surveillance; a suicidal bomber is not deterred by knowing that there is a camera. So the camera just helps to identify afterwards … For that I don´t want to give up my feeling of freedom!

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  3. In my opinion body cameras could be a good solution reducing incidents of police force. However, as is mentioned in the article it is only effective, if the police departments don’t have control over the footage. Otherwise they could just refuse releasing the material, as in the case of Charly Keunang. There are even studies saying that body cameras increased uses in deadly force, as the movie Footage can be used in favor of the police officer.
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-08-12/police-body-cameras

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  4. Enjoyed reading this. Made me think of my home country, Albania, and the majority of Eastern European countries- although we are not necessarily struggling with ‘justified homicide’ per se, we are still trying to fight corruption, which has become the norm. This could be a good tool to reduce the attempts of citizens to bribe policemen/women, country officials, etc, and it could also prevent the acceptance of bribes from the above-mentioned recipients.

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    1. But again, this can not work without the policeman not having control about the cameras they are wearing nor the recorded data. Then whenever you call the police (or when you give them information for an ongoing trial) you will let people wearing cameras that can not be turned off recording everything you do.
      I can tell you, if I lived in a country that used a system like this, I would never call the police (and then people find alternative ways to settle things, essentially leading to organized crime or failed states). And in certain cases (as the ones cited above) probably nobody would. But if the people can no longer even communicate with the police, there is no reason of the police to exist at all. Of cause this would also reduce police violence and corruption to 0, but I would prefer to have a police I can call, when I need help.

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      1. I understand your concern, but from what I know, you don’t actually call the policemen who are on duty, patrolling. You actually call their office (which doesn’t need to be under surveillance), and then they send their cops to your location. I do not see how this would lower your, or other people’s, incentives to count on and call the police.

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      2. It’s very simple: You (or any neighboor) calls the police (office) and they send people with cameras to your location (as these policeman are frequently commiting crimes as well, they would have to wear cameras as well). Then you are on record.

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