While not unambiguous, body worn video cameras (BWC’s) can tell a story. The problem is to tell that story without compromising personal privacy. That’s where redaction plays a role. It can blur people, unique identifying objects, and criminal justice/ medical information. Videos are different from documents, though the concerns are the same. Since the 1960’s when the Federal Government became serious about public disclosure, first Federal, then local, agencies have been redacting from documents information that might compromise individuals’ privacy or sensitive/confidential information prior to public disclosure.
Videos pose special problems because, in real time, they “tell more” than would be revealed or identified in an incident report. (“A picture is worth a thousand words.”) Like redacting documents, redacting videos protects names, addresses, and social security numbers and, even, clips of the driver’s license handed to the officer at a traffic stop. But, now, you need to redact the juvenile and sometimes the driver’s face. Those don’t get into an incident report. That’s not to mention identifying tattoos, vehicle license plates, building addresses, radio traffic, or discussion of police tactics that may be recorded, while the officer is in the vehicle writing a ticket.
What this discussion should disprove is that redaction, can somehow be automated. A human needs to make judgment calls, to avoid compromising personal privacy.
By themselves, BWCs pose an additional problem. Not only may the subject move but the camera moves. A subject or other identifying object may disappear from the camera frame only to emerge again seconds later, as the officer rotates his or her body. This problem is compounded when the camera is attached to the officer above the shoulder.
If all of this does not pose a problem for the redactor, knowing the guidelines for what is to be redacted adds a further complication. Even in states, which set standards for what cannot be released, local agencies may add their own rules. This agency doesn’t required license plates to be redacted, but that one does. That agency wants all officers’ faces to be redacted, but another doesn’t. This agency wants the mentally ill redacted, but it makes no difference to that one. One agency redacts only juvenile faces; another wants the entire body redacted.
No one set of rules fits all, so knowing state guidelines is not an adequate basis for being an effective redactor. Each local agency has its own guidelines. Even then, the redactor cannot get by based on guidelines alone. Some videos will require special instructions. “The man with the blue shirt and beard is an undercover agent, a confidential informant, or is mentally ill.” “While the woman in the blue outfit seems to be mature, she is only 17.” Blur the list of patient names on the wall in the emergency room.”
A redaction service cannot operate on formulas. With this in mind, the Video Redaction Lab treats each client’s needs individually and works to be an extension of its public disclosure arm. Our mission is to take your redaction guidelines augmented, as needed, by special instructions and apply them to your videos.