Rio Hosts Pilot Test of Hidden Cameras on Officers

Cameras meant to deter corruption and nefarious officer behavior

On the streets of Rio one can sometimes seen armed policemen strolling down streets in neighborhoods, with bulky bulletproof vests. They stroll along with cameras poling out of their pockets that record every sight and sound they see. While to some this may sound like a dystopian “police state”, for those who live in the crime-filled city of Rio de Janeiro, this scene is seen as more welcome than some might think.

Over the past handful of years, officers in certain areas of Rio have begun to test tools called Smart Policing, which are parts of Android smartphone applications designed to record and store everything seen by an officer on patrol. The software was developed in tandem with Google and the Igarape institute. The applications upload encrypted video footage to a designated cloud serve and are able to record each movement of the officer for review if necessary.

The working prototype will be unveiled in New York in the near future as one of the software concept at Google Ideas, which is a public policy think tank.

“We see it as a triple win — for improving oversight over police, for enhancing police safety, and for improving police-community interactions,” Robert Muggah, research director at Igarapé, tells The Verge.

The hope for the product is that the consistent presence is more than just keeping en eye on what officers see. It is also specifically meant to deter officers from nefarious or corrupt actions. The new Rio pilot project is expected to run through 2014, and Igarape plans to launch program in other slums like Nairobi and Cape Town. However, it is still unclear if the initiative will be used on a larger scale.

“They have to have a clearly articulated strategy for how they’re going to use on-officer video and audio,” says Scott Greenwood, a civil rights lawyer who has worked with police departments on similar programs in the US. Greenwood, who admits the cameras enhance officer oversight at a higher level and provides what he describes as “unimpeachable evidence” in cases wherein police conduct may be in question.

“If the idea is to just capture everything at all times, that’s just broad surveillance,” he says, “and that certainly hints at creeping ‘Big Brother.’”

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