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GCN : May 2016
case study BY STEPHANIE KANOWITZ BIG DATA Police departments are seeking technology solutions that enable them to share videos while protecting individuals’ privacy Police video redaction: Big data meets privacy After several highly publi- cized cases of videos show- ing questionable police actions, local departments are increas- ingly turning to body-worn cameras. Yet those systems, intended to cap- ture exchanges between officers and suspects or victims, are causing new headaches for police officials as re- quests for the footage are being made through the states’ freedom of infor- mation laws. Responding to such requests takes time and money because someone must sift through the video and make the appropriate redactions, such as blacking out or blurring minors’ fac- es or sensitive information. Plus, re- daction requirements vary by state. Besides the cost of the labor, police departments must budget for video storage and redaction technology. To offset the costs, some police departments have tried charging re- questors. The New York City Police Department recently billed cable news channel NY1 $36,000 — or $120 per hour for 304 hours — to review, re- dact and copy 190 hours of footage the news network requested through New York’s Freedom of Information Law. NY1 balked at the price tag, and a court battle is ongoing. Sometimes, the work is simply too much for a department. The Seattle Police Department stopped its body- camera plan in 2014 after an anony- mous person asked for all videos from dashboard-mounted cameras and planned to request them from body- worn ones. “I think what we are witnessing is a change in the paradigm of polic- ing,” Russell Covey, a law professor at Georgia State University, told Ars Tech- nica in January. “[It’s] similar to what we saw in the ’50s when police moved from foot patrols to squad cars. We’re now seeing the advent of the big-data era. This is the future of policing.” The Obama administration thinks so, too. Through the Justice Depart- ment, the federal government gave $20 million in funding last year to police departments to buy 50,000 body-worn cameras — the first part of a three-year program budgeted at $75 million to determine the cameras’ effectiveness. “The FOIA element of it was really, I think, a surprise to the entire com- munity,” said Sean Varah, CEO of Mo- tionDSP, which makes video redaction MOTIONDSP.COM Ikena Spotlight, a program created by MotionDSP, allows a user to apply different types of redaction to various parts of a video. Sean Varah, CEO of MotionDSP, said the human element to redacting video remains “crucial.” GCN MAY 2016 • GCN.COM 51 0516gcn_051-053.indd 51 4/27/16 1:12 PM
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