Opinion | Security staff wearing body cameras may be invasive but it is necessary

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By Mark Ross, Second Year, Politics and French

University security staff have recently been equipped with body cameras when patrolling campus and University-owned residences. It stings our egos and feels invasive, but for students acclimatised to the digital age, we should really just accept that the benefits outweigh the flaws.

An email to students stated that, as of January 29th, security services have been actively protecting the community by capturing student misdemeanours on film. Let’s take a look at why many students have not taken too kindly to this announcement.

Cameras are invasive and interfere with students’ privacy. Being recorded almost seems like a pre-emptive criminal charge, implying that we – being the boisterous and unpredictable students that we are – are on the verge of committing a crime. This is indicative of a lack of trust on the University’s part.

Being filmed also risks dragging our personal lives into the public. Surely we have the right to attend a slightly over-crowded cheese night without the risk of appearing on the following morning’s BBC news report? It is our choice to break rules; security should deal with us fairly, not by potentially ruining our reputation along with our already-dwindling career prospects.

Add to this a recognition from Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, that students are often overly criticised by media outlets during the pandemic, and it is easy to see why heightening security measures against us seem unfair. ‘The vast majority’, he tweeted, ‘have acted responsibly and compassionately’ – this hardly seems to necessitate the imposition of filmed security surveillance.

These criticisms, however, do not tell the full story. With regard to privacy, the body cameras are not tools of a 24/7 surveillance state. Cameras will only record audio when officers are responding to an incident or come across a developing incident. This means that students will only be filmed if they are involved in a perceived breach of University rules.

The University has good reason to implement these measures

Security are also required to notify students when they are being recorded, and all footage is subject to the University’s GDPR data protection policy.

It must be acknowledged that filming also protects both parties. Students claiming innocence can produce evidence to support their appeals – this ensures against abuse of power on Security’s part. Likewise, officers are at decreased risk of experiencing aggressive behaviour given the deterrent effect commanded by video cameras.

Moreover, the University has good reason to implement these measures. Despite the ‘majority’ of students adhering to the national lockdown, a minority continue to flaunt the rules. For proof of this, one needn’t look further than the last weekend of January  which saw a number of gatherings – including a house party of up to fifty people – broken up by police. In light of this, introducing body cameras in an effort to deter these offences seems a wholly proportionate response.

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Nobody likes being recorded by a stranger, especially not security officers. We associate body cameras with riot police filming violent protesters, not with university staff on Tyndall’s Park Road. In reality, however, this behaviour is commonplace: from NHS staff to Co-op cashiers, body cameras are a widely accepted method of discouraging violence and empowering workers.

Consequently, students must rationalise their gut reaction to this new policy. It may make us a little more nervous when walking to our friend’s house for a small gathering in the future, but given the circumstances, perhaps this is no bad thing. Cameras encourage us to do what we should already be doing.

Admittedly, security staff waving cameras in our faces makes the idea of a united and strong community slightly harder to come to grips with. However, they are taking material steps to saves lives and we should respect that.

Featured Image: Epigram / Filiz Gurer


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