Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the ACLU, has a very important post on that group’s website about the use of police body cameras and how to balance the need for them with privacy concerns for those they encounter while on the job. The takeoff point is a plan by Miami Beach to use such cameras for code enforcement officers, parking enforcement officers, building and fire inspectors.
In a white paper on body cameras, the ACLU had earlier noted:
Body cameras have more of a potential to invade privacy than [other] deployments. Police officers enter people’s homes and encounter bystanders, suspects, and victims in a wide variety of sometimes stressful and extreme situations. . . . Perhaps most troubling is that some recordings will be made inside people’s homes, whenever police enter—including in instances of consensual entry… and such things as domestic violence calls.
These are genuine concerns that underscore the need to regulate who has access to the footage and under what circumstances.
Balanced against these privacy dangers, however, is the significant need to increase oversight in light of the long record of abusive and illegal behavior by police officers (and other law enforcement agents like Border Patrol officers). Police in specific circumstances are given the authority to shoot to kill, to use brutal force, and to arrest citizens—and all too often, officers abuse those powers.
I am not aware of any cases of building inspectors shooting unarmed civilians in the course of their work. The fact is, these jobs do not come with the frightening powers that police officers possess, and so do not need the same kinds of checks on those powers. Deploying body cameras on these workers would bring all the downsides of police body cams—including in some cases filming inside private homes—without any of the benefits. The balance is completely different.
In that ACLU white paper, they suggest many important safeguards to protect the privacy of both the public and of police officers. Legislatures and police departments should pay close attention to those recommendations when making policy.