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Body cameras: what we're seeing is not what we might be getting

There is no question that body cameras are in vogue these days, with their use by police departments in California and across the country seemingly increasing by the day.

The reasons for the exponential uptick in law enforcement agencies' reliance on that tool are myriad and obvious. As noted in a recent media article discussing police body cameras, the devices help "collect evidence for criminal investigations, oversee and expose abusive police practices, and exonerate officers from fabricated charges."

That's all good, right?

Is there a tandem concern that might be emerging regarding the spike in camera use, though? A downside, perhaps?

The author of the above-cited article thinks there might be, and that it centrally relates to a spillover effect regarding the cameras.

In other words: Although the cameras are presently being touted for their police-related purposes, many people are already envisioning a much broader use for the technology in other realms of society. That proliferation of use in broad-based contexts might reasonably raise a number of concerns for surveillance, privacy and the type of world we could end up living in.

"It is not unusual for surveillance technologies to leap from one world to another," says legal analyst Rachel Levinson-Waldman, who notes that cops' body cameras are already being touted for their applicability in areas beyond law enforcement. She notes, for example, that some school districts are expressing interest in the technology, which could provide taped evidence of encounters among officials, students and parents. She notes the potential -- arguably, the inevitable -- use of the cameras in child care centers and a host of other venues.

Levinson-Waldman acknowledges that body cameras becoming commonplace in America's police departments might end up to be a positive -- that is, an accountability-enhancing -- development. She counsels some caution, though, in full-scale touting of the tool, given that, "when we approve a tool of surveillance for one purpose, we are simultaneously approving it for many other purposes as well."

We just need to think a bit about that, she says, and openly consider the vast dimensions across which body cameras in the United States could ultimately operate.

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