North Carolina Law Review

University of North Carolina School of Law

160 Ridge Road

Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Badge Cams as Data and Deterrent:  

Law Enforcement, the Public and the Press in the Age of Digital Video

Date: Friday, November 3, 2017

Location: The Carolina Club 


8:15 AM

Breakfast and Registration 

9:00 AM


9:15 AM

Panel 1: Collection and Use

11:00 AM

Panel 2: Accountability 

12:45 PM

Keynote Speaker: Darrel Stephens, Former Charlotte Chief of Police

1:45 PM

Panel 3: Privacy and Public Access

3:15 PM

Closing Remarks

Download the symposium program here.

  • Seth W. Stoughton - University of South Carolina

  • David Harris - Pittsburgh Law School

  • Mary Fan - University of Washington

  • Woody Hartzog - Northeastern University 

  • Peter Swire - Georgia Tech

  • Margot Kaminski - The Ohio State University

  • Margaret Hu - Washington and Lee University

  • Howard Wassermann - Florida International University 

  • Jay Stanley - Senior Policy Analyst at the ACLU

  • Michael White - Arizona State University 

  • Adam Marshall - Freedom of the Press 

  • Dr. Cathy Packer - UNC School of Media and Journalism

  • Professor Bryce Newell - University of Kentucky




At present, the United States is grappling with the intersection of three big issues – the troubled relationship between law enforcement and many of those they police, the generation of a massive digital database that gives the government access to digital information about every facet of our lives in ‘big data’, and the role of new and old media in documenting the relationship between the government and the governed. In response to the information deficits policymakers face in deciphering the truth from conflicting reports from participants in what are often stressful and emotionally volatile situations, many police departments have adopted body-worn video, or “badge cams.”  A clear-eyed look at the challenges requires good information, both to support police when they do their incredibly difficult jobs well and to discipline those who fail to meet the high standards we expect of those whose job is to protect and serve.  As the technology advances, we can expect the devices to become even better at capturing and storing information and more affordable to issue on a per-officer basis.  And we can expect the amount of data generated to grow, along with the desire of multiple parties to reach it. We can also anticipate new features for the hardware, for example autonomous drones or multi-spectrum cameras, and new software that can identify and track facial features, or voices, and perhaps chemical signatures. The challenges that come with this burgeoning technology make further study a priority. 

As departments develop systems to create, store and retrieve the data, policymakers must balance the interests of privacy, law enforcement, and good government as they decide who else can access the information and under what conditions.  Law enforcement needs reliable and admissible evidence for court.  Police departments also need to be able to evaluate and support or discipline employees.  Local government and civil rights officials need to provide oversight and accountability.  Reporters – broadly defined - need access so that they can report on specific cases and on broader policy issues. And as citizens, we all need to understand what the police do in our name.

Policies for the creation and use of body-worn video that address these wide-ranging issues and draw the appropriate balances with full input from all of the stakeholders are thin on the ground.  Today, the needs of law enforcement have taken top billing, because police and prosecutors are leading the way as drafters of departmental policies.  Legislators and civil rights activists and litigators are only now beginning to grapple with the privacy and access concerns of the press and the public.  Some of these questions have been discussed before, but ubiquitous body-worn video is a difference in degree that will become a difference in kind. 

What policymakers and stakeholders need is a roadmap for the future that accurately and concisely lays out the choices and tradeoffs inherent in system design. Authors will be asked to address, inter alia: 1) law enforcement officials and prosecutors and their experiences and needs; 2) members of the press, leveraging the contacts at the UNC center on Media Law and Policy, to talk about their experiences and needs; and, 3) as many stakeholders as possible from across the spectrum to discuss the ways in which the data that body cameras generate can tie back to the larger issues of trust between the public and the police.