Cameras worn by police officers to film encounters with members of the public may breach privacy law, Police Scotland has admitted.
A key section of an internal police report that officials meant to keep secret says that body-worn cameras are “questionable” under data protection law meant to ensure personal privacy.
Police officers are increasingly wearing small cameras on their uniforms to record interactions with people they stop, question or have discussions with. Cameras have been bought for officers in the Grampian area, and have been trialed elsewhere in Scotland.
A 2013 Police Scotland report released under freedom of information law by the Scottish Government says that body-worn cameras can help reduce crime and speed up court pleas. “Whilst there are clear benefits to the adoption of this device, it is disparate throughout Police Scotland,” it adds.
“There is no internal information technology support for these devices. The management of these devices at a number of different offices is questionable in regards to compliance with the Information Commissioner’s Office guidance and legislative requirements.”
According to the commissioner’s office, body-worn cameras are likely to be “more intrusive” than CCTV surveillance systems because of their mobility. “Continuous recording will require strong justification as it is likely to be excessive and cause a great deal of collateral intrusion,” says the commissioner’s official advice.
“This is because continuous recording is likely to capture people going about their daily business, as well as the individual who is the focus of your attention. Remember that the presence of audio recording adds to the privacy intrusion.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrats, who have been investigating police use of cameras, are concerned about the civil liberties implications. “It is worrying that Police Scotland’s own body cameras may not be legal ,” says LibDem Scottish leader, Willie Rennie MSP.
Daniel Nesbitt, the research director of the campaign group, Big Brother Watch, accepts that body-worn cameras could be helpful. “But they should only be rolled out when the proper safeguards are in place,” he says.
“Officers should always ensure that citizens know they are being recorded, so this can’t turn into another opportunity for covert surveillance. As important, is the need for a very clear set of guidelines to govern how long footage can be kept for, where it is kept and who can access it.”
Police Scotland didn’t comment on body-worn cameras. Its report, however, recommends the development of a “corporate approach” on the purchase, policy and operating procedures of the devices.
A related story on the police CCTV report is here.
Cover image: West Midlands Police | CC | https://flic.kr/p/ox7brL