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New (video) information source for the police: The politics, ethics, and social unease that goes with it

by Andrew White  |  December 3, 2014  |  2 Comments

The U.S. print edition of the Wall Street Journal carried an interesting story today titled, “Cameras Put New Pressure on Police“.  The article highlights a couple of issues with respect to the recent request of the President of the United States to congress for money to equip the nations police force with cameras.  As we know from dangerous car chases on TV, many police vehicles already have on-board cameras.  This new request is much more personal in that the idea is the policemen would carry a camera on their person, capturing all the interactions with their environment.  This will be a major new source of information for crime prevention as well as the legal system.  The issues are many.

  1. What about the right of the individual not to be photographed?  What if I am not doing anything illegal and the local bobby starts recording me and my actions, “just because” inspector plod wants to poke his nose into my work?  How much “freedom” do we, as a people, want to give the police in the interest of increasing security and trust in our criminal justice system?
  2. How will all this new data be stored and ultimately governed, such that it yields useful and usable information?  Who makes the information governance policy decisions?  Should this be at the federal or state, or even local level?  How will stewardship (i.e. enforcement) be deployed?  There are many policies to think about: storage, security, retrieval, access, quality, permissible uses etc.
  3. What framework will be used to classify said data?  In the parlance of the information architect, what taxonomy, schema and metadata model will be used to describe and document videos and information embedded within them?  This is part of the design phase of information governance whereas 2) above is more concerned with operational information governance.
  4. How will “we” ensure the analysis of the video information and data is fair, complete, contextually relevant?  What can be done to prevent “unethical data discovery” (UDD) that might lead to police action that steps over the creepy line? For example, I am cited in a public filing of a police report in a video of a crime scene.  Actually I was on my way to buy some flowers for my wife, but I was snapped on film passing through a neighborhood I would not normally hang around.  By implication I might be thought of as doing something nefarious.  In truth I was not.  This example crosses the line though is not really unethical per se,  but the possibly exists.
  5. Then we need to think of the consequences of this new technology and information source on related processes and work.  For example how does the judicial and legal systems change?  How will they change their work given this new data, that will be available almost immediately?  Will court rooms now all need HD video systems for every case?  When is video data permissible, warranted, or relevant in case?  What and when is such data made public?  When can the press (think freedom of information) have access?  This relates to design and operational information governance policy setting and enforcement, but the use of said data will have knock-on impacts on subsequent activities.  We need to think about this, and quickly.

Many, if not all, of these questions are not new.  But the source of data is, and the issue is pressing.  In light of recent news related to effective (or ineffective) policing, society seems bent on accepting this technology as a primary means to protect itself.  If we are not careful the unintended consequences may outweigh the good.


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Category: information-governance  information-innovation  information-lifecycle  information-policy  information-trust  police-force  policing  video-surveillance  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a Distinguished Analyst and VP. His roles include Chief of Research and Content Lead for Data and Analytics. His main research focus is data and analytics strategy, platforms, and governance. Read Full Bio

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