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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

EDITORIAL: Every contact recorded

February 24, 2010
Globe and Mail

A group of Liberal senators opened a can of worms this week when they recommended that RCMP officers be outfitted with video cameras that record their every move while on duty. The recommendation was one of a number aimed at improving the public image of the Mounties. Some of the recommendations are worth considering, but this one isn't.

The technology in question is being pushed aggressively in the United States by the company that developed it: Taser International. That name alone will raise eyebrows. Taser, famous for manufacturing the stun guns involved in the deaths of several suspects at the hands of police officers, has a clearly stated goal: to protect officers' reputations from harm. Its "Axon personal video recorder" does this by sitting in an officer's ear like a Bluetooth headset and recording to a miniature portable computer everything he or she sees and hears. "Destroy the lie" is the Axon's motto; in other words, protect an arresting officer from false charges of abuse, or from unfair allegations of firing his or her weapon unduly, by recording the actions of an alleged suspect. The suspect's rights are not at issue here, it should be noted.

The problem is that the cameras are on all the time, not just during an arrest. Every person an officer looks at and listens to will be caught on videotape, making this a wholesale intrusion into the public's right to privacy. Trampling on that ever-diminishing right in order to protect a police officer's "honour," as Taser International puts it, is a completely unacceptable trade-off.

Furthermore, where are these recordings going? Who has access to them? In the U.S., the recordings are stored on a website owned by Taser International and sold to law enforcement agencies, lawyers and courts. The commercialization of police evidence is an intolerable notion in our justice system.

Yes, the RCMP has problems that need to be dealt with, and there are many potential solutions that could be brought forward. But a quantum leap into a world of constant video surveillance by roving police officers is not one of them. We want our Mounties to be humans, not robocops; wearing such a device would diminish the trust between citizens and their police, not increase it.

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