Police departments all over the country are gearing up to test out body cams on officers in the field. President Barack Obama has already announced plans to spend $75 million to help departments purchase the gadgets, and the LAPD raised enough money in private funds to outfit 800 officers. While body cams might be good for accountability, they also bring up serious questions about privacy. The Seattle Police Department has turned to hackers for the answer.
The major issue revolves around finding a balance between public accessibility and privacy. The department already has over 1 million videos. It wants to release video footage to the public, but needs to redact some information to avoid infringing on citizens' rights.
How is SPD addressing the question? By turning to hackers, of course. The department recently held a hackathon that allowed capable computer whizzes to demonstrate how they would remove things like faces and license plates from body cam footage.
Seven groups showed put their best foot forward at the hackathon. Everyone from normal Seattleites to technology professionals showed up for the event, and the SPD was happy with what it saw.
The Seattle hackathon seems to have been a step in that direction. GeekWire wrote, "Mike Wagers, the SPD Chief Operating Officer, was very pleased by the results, saying they exceeded his wildest expectations, although admitting he had no specific expectations from the session."
Each group showed off its own redaction plans. They involve software solutions as well as "human review." The main goal is to quickly and efficiently make the videos conform to Washington's privacy laws. For example, SPD needs to respect the privacy rights of protected persons like minors or people on private property.
Technology is great is so many ways, but it can also open us up to privacy issues. I'm glad to see that the Seattle Police Department is taking these issues seriously and thinking outside the box to find solutions.