The benefits of body worn cameras are becoming increasingly clear. As well as assisting the criminal justice system, they can also help safeguard lone workers, reduce the need for lengthy paperwork, act as a deterrent in confrontational situations and ensure accurate reporting of events. However, they must not be embraced without a full understanding of the laws governing their use.
The Body Worn Camera Policy UK – The Protection of Freedom Act 2012 is the relevant legislation. It recognises some of the risks inherent in the use of body worn cameras. Mostly, these concern civil liberties.
Although body worn cameras are still most commonly used by police forces, the private sector is displaying increased interest. However, before equipping staff with body worn cameras, it is important to understand that, due to its mobility, this technology is more intrusive than many alternatives. Its use must be justified as proportionate and necessary and as addressing a pressing social need. This requires a privacy impact assessment. The assessment must take into account the specific use that is to be made of the camera and the environs in which it is to be operated. Continuous monitoring, including audio as well as video, will require greater justification than a single short period. Similarly, using the device in areas where there is a very high expectation of privacy, such as homes, schools and care homes, requires greater justification. The operator must provide evidence of a sufficiently pressing social need before the device’s use can be justified. The Information Commissioner’s Office has specific guidance on the operation and practical effect of the legislation.
Businesses which supply body worn cameras and similar surveillance equipment, take their responsibilities seriously. Many now offer downloadable summaries of the relevant legislation, although they would always recommend seeking independent legal advice or referring to the Information Commissioner in the case of any doubt. Responsible businesses will also recommend that staff are trained about the situations in which it may and may not be appropriate for them to use the cameras. A business like Gloucester Estate Agents found at links www.tgres.co.uk Practical case studies are often a helpful way to work through the issues and highlight potential problems.
For pragmatic businesses, the law is a framework that guides their use of this new technology and safeguards users and the general public alike.