North Carolina Law Review

University of North Carolina School of Law

160 Ridge Road

Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Police-Generated Digital Video: Five Key Questions, Multiple Audiences, and a Range of Answers

June 1, 2018

96 N.C. L. Rev. 1237 (2018)


Police-generated digital video is being created at an ever-accelerating pace as technology makes camera systems lighter, cheaper, faster, and more accessible. Video systems have expanded from fixed-site cameras, to dashboard-mounted cameras, to body-worn cameras, to aerial-drone-mounted cameras. Any well-crafted policy regarding digital video must have calibrated answers to five key questions that arise as we consider the life cycle of the video: How will we handle (1) creation, (2) storage, (3) access, (4) redaction, and (5) use of the digital video created by these camera systems? In this Essay, I suggest that there are multiple potential audiences for this digital video, and each audience can be predicted to draw different balances in answering the five framing questions. These potential audiences include police management, police officers, police unions, criminal and civil courts, the media, civil rights advocates, civil libertarians, defendants, defense counsel, prosecutors, victims, and local governments. Their responses are likely different because each audience might give a slightly different answer to the meta-question: Why do we create this video in the first place?


In this overview Essay for our Symposium, I briefly consider the five phases of the police-generated digital video life-cycle and some of the issues that might arise in each phase. Given the tradeoffs inherent in public policy, I propose no correct answers. Instead, I suggest that having all of the interested voices at the table when these questions are translated into policy will lead to a wide range of different choices that reflect the values and compromises appropriate for the polity that makes them.



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