Who watches the watchers? Police body cams means we all do

Worry that the state is abusing its powers through surveillance of its citizens has been a ubiquitous and powerful theme in contemporary political discourse. Most recently it manifests around the Harper government’s Anti Terrorism Law Bill C-51 that would grant additional surveillance powers to the government over Canadian citizens. Older yet are ideas regarding a state’s use of force against citizens through the police. Roman poet Juvenal wrote quis costodiet ipsos custodies, or, who will guard the guards themselves? The question is indeed just as difficult to answer today as it was in the 2nd century. The past week’s media discussions about using police body cameras forces us to consider the privacy implications where everyone and anyone can “watch the watchers”. Over the past year hundreds of American law enforcement agencies have outfitted police officers with body-worn cameras. Most recent is Charleston, North Carolina, where a passerby filmed the killing of Walter Scott by a police officer who fired 8 shots at the man as he ran away. A number of cities worldwide use body worn cameras on police, both to protect the police and to prevent tragedies such as the one that occurred in North Carolina. Empirically, body worn cameras reduce complaints against the police. Such has been the case in the UK, where body-worn cameras are more common. The idea is being explored in Canadian media as well. The legal questions related to how the data from the cameras would be stored, managed, shared and destroyed is tricky. However, if government and law enforcement are going to use technology and metadata to improve oversight of criminal activity and...