Privacy commissioner releases model governance framework on police use of body-worn cameras

Framework aims to promote transparency, accountability surrounding police-civilian encounters

Privacy commissioner releases model governance framework on police use of body-worn cameras

The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario has published a model governance framework on police use of body-worn cameras, which seeks to address the significant shift in public opinion since the idea was first contemplated in the mid-2000s.

The model framework also aims to advance one of the office’s strategic priorities, to strengthen the transparency and accountability surrounding police-civilian encounters. This includes the use of force by police and to assist the provincial police services in developing effective programs which promote public safety objectives while respecting the rights of Ontarians, said a blog post by Patricia Kosseim, Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner.

The model framework provides that body-worn cameras can only be utilized to record specific investigative or enforcement-related incidents pertaining to direct interactions between police officers and members of the public and cannot be secretly used or constantly switched on to conduct mass or generalized surveillance.

The model framework asks police services to lay down and to commit to guiding principles that ensure that their use of body-worn cameras:

  • is clearly defined, necessary and proportionate to the program’s purposes, transparent and accountable to the public
  • ensures the integrity of the criminal justice system and the administration of justice
  • safeguards the rights to information and privacy of individuals
  • applies fairly and equitably to everyone
  • respects the inherent worth and dignity of human beings

The model framework recommends privacy impact assessments for the identification and mitigation of risks and for guidance on the considerations for choosing equipment providers and urges transparency in keeping records for access-to-information requests and for proactive release in the public interest. Such records should be limited in use and in disclosure, should be securely stored and should be destroyed when the relevant retention period has expired, the model framework says.

The model framework is informed by 2015 guidance for the use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement authorities issued by the federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners, as well as by the office’s consultations with the Toronto Police Service and with its oversight board.

The office has found these efforts, including the consultation, enlightening in terms of better understanding the public safety goals and practical considerations involved in the implementation of body-worn camera programs.

The office hopes that this model framework can help other provincial police services seeking to plan or to implement such programs so that there is a consistent level of rights protection throughout the province in adherence to Ontario’s access and privacy laws.

Kosseim urged police services and oversight boards intending to use such technology to adopt this model framework to strengthen trust and respect with their communities.

Body-worn cameras “are no cure-all but they can, if used properly, help foster the transparency and accountability that citizens have come to expect of their police officers, without crossing the boundaries of individual privacy and the basic tenets of human dignity,” said Kosseim.

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