UK Rolls Out Police Headcams

Associated Press photo of Sgt. Olly Taylor from Devon modeling new police cam

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the coming surveillance society, but I couldn’t let an AP story in today’s newspaper about British policemen equipped with helmet cams go by without comment.

By providing dramatic footage of victims, suspects and witnesses, judges and jurors will be able to “see and hear the incident through the eyes and ears of the officer at the scene,” Minister of State for Security Tony McNulty said.

Given various incidents of police brutality, you can see the additional upside that police might be more restrained if they knew someone was watching — or they might just turn off the camera. The story also cites rowdy crowds quieting down when they realized they were being filmed, women having more confidence in pressing charges in domestic abuse cases, and so on. But, the article continues:

the national rollout will tighten Britain’s web of video surveillance, already the most extensive in the world. The country is watched over by a network of some 4 million closed-circuit cameras, and privacy advocates complain the average Briton is recorded as many as 300 times a day.


The Home Office said it was exploring other uses for the devices, including fitting them with the ability to send video live to a command centre, or special license-plate recognition software which would enable police to identify stolen or suspicious vehicles just by looking at them.

The future is not going to be like the past. We can rush unthinking towards that future, or we can make conscious choices about what kind of future we want. There are trends too strong for any of us to stop, in which case we must think hard about how best to adapt. There are others where a small intervention at the right time can make all the difference. We can also set in place guidelines to mitigate harm. For example, in the case of the police headcams, “police were instructed to inform members of the public they were being recorded and that the footage not being used in an investigation had to be erased within a month of its creation” and

The Home Office said the cameras — which have enough memory to hold 24 hours of video — were not intended to record continuously. Officers would turn the devices on and off at their discretion, speaking into the camera after turning it on to explain where, when and why they were starting it. A second explanation was required before turning the device off.

The report also cautioned against taking extraneous video when entering private homes, and said officers should turn cameras off during strip searches. But it also threatened disciplinary action against officers who deliberately masked the camera’s view or deleted video from the camera’s memory.

How do you feel about a future in which you might always be on camera in any public space? What kinds of safeguards would you expect?