Police Cameras Are Valuable... But Not If They Can Alter The Videos

from the trust-goes-out-the-window dept

We've talked plenty about the value of body cameras and dashcams for police -- in acting as a deterrent to bad behavior by police while supposedly acting as public servants. Of course, that only works if people trust the video not to be edited and doctored. This week there are all sorts of questions being raised about the arrest and hanging death of activist Sandra Bland in Texas. There are plenty of questions about why she was even arrested in the first place, and then plenty more about why she died (the police called it a suicide, which many who knew Bland find highly questionable).

In response to some of these concerns, the police released a 52 minute version of the dashcam video of her arrest -- though for some reason, the YouTube version has since been taken down. Perhaps it's because people watching the whole thing noticed a bunch of really sketchy problems with it that suggested the video had been edited, while the audio remained in tact. Ben Norton first posted the details of these, highlighting a bunch of weird artifacts like disappearing cars that magically reappear seconds later:
Or the tow truck driver who gets out of his truck, walks behind the car and out of frame... and then suddenly gets out of the truck again:
You can skip your "glitch in the Matrix" jokes. They've already been made. Plus, this is about someone who died.

The Texas Dept. of Public Safety said it would look into the video problems, and officials have denied any edits and have said that they will re-upload the video (which likely explains why the original has now gone missing). It also seems worth noting that the timing of the edits doesn't make it look like anything important was edited out (it all happens after the arrest itself).

It's possible that there was just some sort of weird glitch with this footage, but it's a reminder that anything that calls into question the credibility and accuracy of these kinds of videos will only undermine the purpose of these videos. We've heard too many stories about how some of these cameras can be "turned off" or that police would have access to the coverage before it's released to the public. If officials want these systems to actually work, they have to be trustworthy on their own. While this is likely just going to turn out to be some sort of technical problem that will be fixed, with nothing nefarious at all, it still acts as a strong reminder for the need to make sure that this kind of footage is stored and released in a way that doesn't raise such questions.
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Filed Under: accountability, dashcams, edits, police, police cameras, sandra bland, texas


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  1. identicon
    WTH, 25 Jul 2015 @ 7:27am

    You don't have to encrypt, just create a hash of each frame...

    ...and upload the hashes somewhere out of their reach. Then they can do whatever they want with the video, as long as they don't claim to destroy the original you can trivially detect changes.

    It is also very easy to detect changes by noting the increase in certain frames types in the video (presuming they're using modern compression.)

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