Garda body cameras likely to be used only in potential confrontations

Access to footage will be strictly controlled under proposals being considered

An example of a body camera used by police in the UK. Photograph: iStock

An example of a body camera used by police in the UK. Photograph: iStock

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Garda body cameras will not record all the time and will instead only be activated by gardaí in certain situations, under a new system being considered by management.

The introduction of body cameras was recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in 2018 and is supported by many gardaí. However, the recommendation also prompted privacy concerns from civil liberties campaigners.

The use of body cameras will be governed under the Garda Síochána (Digital Recording) Bill 2021, which Cabinet will consider shortly, and they will probably come into operation some time next year.

According to sources familiar with the development process within the Garda, the system will involve front-line gardaí wearing a highly visible camera on the chest that can record video and audio.

Gardaí will have the choice whether to turn recording on or not. Under the regulations being considered, gardaí will be likely to have to signal whenever they are about to record, and will have to justify the decision afterwards. This will be similar to the process for the use of force.

Situations where the use of a camera would be justified include public order matters, searches and other potentially confrontational incidents, sources said.

Privacy issues

Having a camera recording all the time would be “prohibitively expensive”, one person familiar with the process said, and would raise significant privacy issues.

In many jurisdictions, police body cameras are activated automatically when an officer performs a certain action, such as drawing a firearm. Under the proposals under consideration, gardaí themselves will activate the camera.

Video footage will be uploaded to a server room, where it will be stored under strict security, rather than being stored on the camera itself, and access to footage will be highly regulated.

It is unlikely that live feeds will be viewable, and those wishing to watch recorded footage will require formal permission. “People won’t be able to go fishing,” said a source.

The footage will be stored in such a way that it cannot be edited or otherwise altered, in order to preserve its integrity in case it is needed as evidence in court.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris will be required to carry out a human rights and data protection assessment before drafting a code of conduct for their use. This will be reviewed every five years.