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Police officers are wasting hours – even days – pixelating body worn camera footage over privacy fears, the policing minister has revealed as ministers pledged to investigate the problems.
Kit Malthouse said that officers had complained they were being distracted from frontline duties by having to spend time blurring the faces of people irrelevant to their investigation when preparing their evidence for court.
He admitted it was not clear where the guidance requiring it had come from, but he said he was investigating to see “whether it is actually needed”. The Attorney General Suella Braverman is also reviewing the problem to "minimise" the strain on police.
One senior police officer said: “Every hour spent behind a desk pixelating body worn camera images is an hour they are not out on the street tackling crime.”
The officer added: “For an average Friday night street fight, it might be an hour’s work with, for example, eight people in the crowd watching it whose faces had to be pixelated. But it could be a couple of days’ work for a counter-terrorism surveillance operation.”
Deputy Chief Constable James Colwell, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for body-worn video, said the volume of footage that had to be disclosed when bringing a charge has been increasing in recent years.
“As part of this process, police officers will need to review and redact content which is not relevant to the case and protect the privacy of individuals,” he said.
“We are aware that this is placing substantial pressure on investigators and are currently consulting with police forces on producing additional guidance to support officers in carrying out this requirement.”
One senior policing official said that one option would be to use automated pixelation technology, which he had already seen demonstrated and could do the job almost instantaneously and just as effectively as a human operator. It would, however, cost forces money.
Sir Tom Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, has urged forces to make greater use of the latest technology to sift and analyse information in complex cases, such as in terrorism where on average there are four terabytes of data, equivalent to 125 32GB iPads full to the brim with information.
He said there are artificial intelligence programmes which enable people to read millions of pages of documents, filtering and producing the required information.
A spokesman for the Attorney General said: “As part of the annual review of Disclosure Guidelines, the Solicitor General is looking at how we can address concerns about the burden of having to pixelate video footage from body cameras worn by police officers.
“The Government is testing all legal and policy options in this complex area to ensure we minimise the strain on the police as much as possible.”