The PJ Tatler

Body Cameras for Cops? There's a Better Way

It has become fashionable among critics of law enforcement to prescribe the use of body cameras, ostensibly to hold officers accountable for their interactions with the public. The above clip regarding the right to record police concludes with a call for body cameras.

However, good libertarian arguments against body cameras exist. Interacting with activists on social media, Minnesota state lawmaker Branden Petersen notes three competing interests which cannot be reconciled in an implementation of police worn body cameras (edited for format):

1) The only way body cameras can be free from corruption and editing by [law enforcement]  is if all of the video is available via [Freedom of Information Act] request. This would not allow agencies to curate the film in ways that would continue to perpetuate the unfair favorable bias they currently get during internal investigations.

However, if this is the case it presents a significant privacy concern leading to issue #2) In the event police body cams were on 100% of the time (because it is the only way to ensure transparency) you would inevitably violate the privacy rights of homeowners and victims without their consent. Property owners should not have to consent to recordings in their premises without a warrant and individuals should not be required to be recorded anytime they interact with an officer.

Lastly, #3) Police body cams would represent the greatest expansion of the surveillance state we have ever seen. As we know, this data will be retained and mined to continue to increase the general monitoring capability of the state… [There] is no way to balance these issues without fatally compromising at least one…

The better solution is bolstering the right of the public to record the police by explicitly prohibiting police interference with such recording. Privately owned recordings don’t come with the same legal implications that Petersen notes regarding publicly owned ones.