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How the cloud helped police warm up to body-worn cameras

Colin Neagle | May 27, 2015
While the benefits of body-worn cameras for law enforcement have been well-known for years, cloud storage and security needed to evolve to handle all the footage.

The technology for body-worn cameras has been around for years, but it wasn't until this past year that law enforcement agencies have moved to adopt them in significant numbers.

Of course, a big part of the reason was the fallout from several high-profile incidents involving law enforcement's controversial use of deadly force, bookended by the ensuing riots in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Baltimore just last month. These reactions made it clear how important body-worn cameras could be, to the point that the Ferguson police department implemented the devices just weeks after Michael Brown's shooting.

Also contributing to the acceptance of these devices, however, was development of the technology that actually makes them useful namely, secure cloud storage.

If the aim of a camera adorned to the uniform of a police officer is to provide objective context of his or her encounters with the public, then, logically, the footage created must remain secure and untouched. This is in the interest of both law enforcement, which could use the footage as evidence for both prosecution efforts and to exonerate officers who may be wrongfully accused of misconduct, and the public, who would get no value from video footage that an officer accused of wrongdoing was able to access or alter after the fact.

Naturally, cloud storage is a good solution to the problem, particularly as it restricts the officers' access to the files. But for years, asking law enforcement agencies to entrust such sensitive data to the cloud was no easy task. A report (PDF) on body-worn cameras for law enforcement released in September 2014 by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) warned agencies to "consider third-party vendors carefully," and said that many police executives interviewed for the report stressed the importance of entering into a legal contract with the cloud storage vendor.

Steve Ward, a former police officer and the CEO of Vievu, a provider of body-worn camera devices and software, says he saw widespread skepticism until about six months ago, when the company partnered with Microsoft to provide cloud storage using the Azure Government cloud, which meets the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS) standards.

"Private industry in America, they don't have the same scrutiny as government agencies," Ward says. "We've had cloud-based services, there are a dozen of them out there that any private business can go and store data in, but government is a different animal. And so up until six months ago, a cloud solution that meets FBI standards did not exist. There was a lot of the skepticism. Law enforcement just didn't trust it, it didn't meet the standards that they had to meet, and so they just didn't move that way."

 

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