Privacy, Public Disclosure, Police Body Cameras: Policy Splits

51 Pages Posted: 4 May 2016 Last revised: 23 Oct 2016

See all articles by Mary D. Fan

Mary D. Fan

University of Washington School of Law

Date Written: December 1, 2015


When you call the police for help — or someone calls the police on you — do you bear the risk that your worst moments will be posted on YouTube for public viewing? Police officers enter some of the most intimate incidences of our lives — after an assault, when we are drunk and disorderly, when someone we love dies in an accident, when we are distraught, enraged, fighting, and more. As police officers around the nation begin wearing body cameras in response to calls for greater transparency, communities are wrestling with how to balance privacy with public disclosure. This Article sheds light on the balances being struck in state laws and in the body camera policies of police departments serving the 100 largest cities in the nation. The evaluation illuminates two emerging areas of concern — the enactment of blanket or overbroad exemptions of body camera footage from public disclosure, and silence on victim and witness protection in many policies.

The Article offers two proposals to address the challenges. First, the Article argues for legal safe harbors to foster the development of new redaction technologies to automate the removal of private details rather than exempting body camera video from disclosure. Blanket or broad exemptions from public disclosure disable much of the promised benefits of the body camera revolution. Nondisclosure also destroys the incentive to develop technology to reconcile the important values of transparency and privacy. Second, the Article argues for giving victims and witnesses control over whether officers may record them, rather than putting the burden on victims and witnesses to request that recording cease. This approach better protects against the perverse unintended consequence of deterring victims from seeking help and witnesses from coming forward, and reduces the risk of inflicting further privacy harms from seeking justice.

Keywords: Police Body Cameras, Privacy, Public Disclosure, Safe Harbors, Exemptions, FOIA, Sunshine Laws, Victim Protection, Witness Protection, Redaction, Policy Coding

Suggested Citation

Fan, Mary, Privacy, Public Disclosure, Police Body Cameras: Policy Splits (December 1, 2015). Alabama Law Review, Vol. 68, Forthcoming, University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2016-12, Available at SSRN:

Mary Fan (Contact Author)

University of Washington School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98195
United States


Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics