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Body cams: tool or tyranny?

The use of body-mounted video cameras, or “body cams,” continues to spark controversy.
There is no doubt that body cams can be a useful tool for law enforcement, because the camera doesn’t lie, unless it’s tampered with. Video provides protection for both law enforcement and for suspects, because it documents reality and helps eliminate the “he-said, she-said” aspects of law enforcement.
The controversy isn’t about whether body cams are a useful tool for law enforcement, but where to draw the lines when it comes to privacy issues.
Law enforcement officials are pushing to keep the videos they may take with body cams private, not for use by the media, or by the public in general.
It’s a legitimate concern. Video taken in private homes not only documents what’s taking place between officers and citizens, but also captures what’s happening around the encounter. Video may show valuables in a home, which may tempt thieves if the video is public. Or it may show other activity that should be private, such as that which involves children.
And then there is the even bigger question: when does government have the right to enter our homes and make a visual record of our lives? Are we approaching the era of “big brother” that was predicted in George Orwell’s “1984,” in which government surveillance predominated? Is this the next step to government-mounted cameras in our homes?
Many will say that we’ll never get that far. On the other hand, no one probably predicted that the use of dash-mounted cameras in squad cars would eventually lead to the use of body cams.
We have no problems with the use of dash-mounted cameras, because they document what happens in what is termed “the public domain.” They document what happens on public streets and highways, where anyone can see them.
Bringing that technology into private homes is a different matter altogether. While we appreciate the accuracy of documentation that body cams can bring, we also strongly urge law enforcement and legislators to be very careful that we are not on the slippery slope to “big brother” surveillance.
There is serious discussion and debate on how to regulate the use of body cams and public access to the video. Let’s hope that debate results in policies and regulations that both satisfy the need for accuracy and our constitutional right to privacy.