Do Body Cameras on Law Enforcement Officers Violate Privacy Rights?
Technological advancement has been among the greatest achievements humans have had over the years. The 21st century, in particular, is marked by the highest levels of technological achievements, with nearly all aspects of life being influenced by technology. Better and improved technologies have enabled humans to interact quickly and cheaply through quality devices and the internet. Other impacts of technological advancement have been in health, security, ease of trade, improved transport services, and education, among others. Therefore, technology can be shown to impact every aspect of human life. However, despite such advancements, it is also to be appreciated that the use of technology is not as advanced in other areas of life as it is in others. One of the areas in human living that the advancement has not adequately served is the use of recording cameras for security enforcing teams like police officers. While the future of such a technology is currently being studied across the globe, different opinions, in support or otherwise, of such a technology are increasingly witnessed. Thus, this report presents a critical philosophical look at the issue of the use of body cameras by law enforcers as being recommended. The discussion revolves around the ethical concerns that are raised on the infringements of human rights to privacy both on the police officers as well as for the people with whom the officers interact.
Using cameras by law enforcement officers presents one of the best mechanisms through which morality and discipline among the enforcing authorities can be ensured. The lack of better ways to monitor the activities of police officers has been in the past blamed for enabling such officers to commit a crime and never take responsibility. Police officers have been accused of committing atrocities in the public or even to fellow police officers. Because of the lack of evidence, the police officers get away without being punished. To have such officers face the law and take responsibility for their own acts, the proposal to have cameras mounted on the bodies of all officers appears to be more than a timely solution. According to the proposal, police officers should always wear cameras attached either to their clothes or even to their eyeglasses whenever on duty (Carta, para 1-3). The cameras must be switched on when officers are on duty to record interactions with other people for the purpose of accountability. Effectiveness in the use of such cameras on police officers would ensure that the law enforcers adhere to the right behaviors while on duty and, at the same time, ensure accountability.
Nevertheless, critiques of such a proposal would raise possible counterarguments citing infringement of the ethical rights of people. For instance, one would reason that the cameras go further to inhibit the privacy rights of these officers. Consequently, the camera would always record all the agent’s audio communication, even if it were private. Besides, how will the public be always warned that any interaction they have with a security officer is being monitored? The primary concern to all policymakers and enforcement agencies would be the balance between ensuring law and order and the rights to privacy for both police officers and the public. The debate is, therefore, on what advantages such a move should bring while at the same time ensuring that both the officers and the subjects are happy.
In many democracies, privacy as a human right is well spelled out within the constitutional frameworks. The implication here is that every person is entitled to their own privacy, including the right to communicate. However, privacy issues have always been pointed out to obscure rights to fair treatment by security organs when the officers decide to go beyond their jurisdictions in frisking or even investigating a crime (Vicens, para 1-6). For instance, the power to stop and examine a person on suspicion bestowed on police officers within some states has been pointed out as one of the ways through which particular people become victims of police brutality or even death. Cases have been recorded where police officers have been discriminating against and even killing people while simultaneously escaping justice by law. Therefore, the increased cases of police irregularities while on duty could support the proposal to have officers on duty monitored through cameras. However, while such a proposal presents a great solution to the problem of police irregularities considerably, it also presents a challenge to law enforcement.
How could these cameras be used while at the same time ensuring that the legal provision of privacy to the police officers is provided for? Police officers would claim that whenever on duty, they might not be able to transact private business because, at any time, someone may be watching over them. There are instances when everyone requires their own space to converse or even carry out personalized tasks. When the law is enforced, some supportive mechanisms must be embraced to ensure that the imposition of such a regulation does not infringe on the privacy rights of the agents. One of these tools that could be effective in such regulation is the introduction of supportive curricula within the training institutions of the law enforcers through which such issues could be tackled and the best mechanisms to overcome be deliberated (Cole, para 2-5).
On the other hand, the ethical concern of how well the technology would be embraced without contravening the public’s rights to privacy arises. Law as well protects the public in the own private life and as such, it may be a requirement that all police officers warn people that they are being monitored. The idea of informing people is, however, “funny, ” which challenges the enforcement of such a law. Nevertheless, the idea of embracing technology has the welfare of the people as a priority because, often, security agents disregard the public’s fundamental rights while dealing with them. However, effectiveness in rolling the technology should put into perspective the need to have these fundamental rights safeguarded. Therefore, one would ask to what extent a private conversation with an officer should be made public through such recordings. Moreover, to what extent should private property be exposed to the public through the cameras whenever the police decide to frisk a person and or the private premise?
Therefore, these are among other issues pertaining to introducing surveillance technology with security agents whenever on duty. While the technology presents significant benefits if adequately embraced, many challenges are pointed out to its use. The technology resembles a great extent, the technology of CCTV cameras, which, when mounted along streets, every person passing by could be monitored. An argument could easily be fronted that the technology should be embraced because it works in almost a similar principle to CCTV technology. However, the opponents of the technology aver that the cameras on security officers should go beyond general surveillance to concentrate on even finer details that regard personal privacy.
The use of cameras by police officers while on duty is not a very new idea, as it has been on trial in many places. The technology involves mounting cameras on the front side of security personnel while on duty with a requirement that they remain switched on so that all that happens around an officer can be recorded and monitored. Such a condition challenges the police and the public around him because issues undoubtedly require privacy. The report cites some of the privacy issues of officers, like private communication, and of the public, like frisking personal property, as possible rights that the technology may infringe on. However, the positives include holding responsible undisciplined officers and members of the public as recorded by the cameras. While such cameras are being tried, there is the need to have the law streamlined to ensure that effectiveness and efficiency in the adoption of the technology do not compromise people’s rights. The paper appreciates the usefulness of such technology but recommends that training schools for security agencies should embrace the right curriculum to teach the efficient use of cameras. Public members should be sensitized to the benefits of such technology so that possible conflicts should be avoided once the technology is rolled out.
Carta, Magna. “University of Alberta Faculty of Law Blog.” ‘University of Alberta Faculty of Law Blog’ 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://ualbertalaw.typepad.com/faculty/2015/03/police-body-cameras-a-second-set-of-eyes.html>.
Cole, Kiana. “Carrboro Police Consider Use of Body Cameras.” The Daily Tar Heel: 21 Apr. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2015/04/carrboro-police-consider-use-of-body-cameras>.
Vicens, AJ. “Putting Body Cameras on Cops Is Hardly a Cure-all for Abuses.” Mother Jones. 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/chest-and-dash-cams-ferguson-police-abuse>.