New rules for bodycam use by police

The Police Services Act in Belgium has recently been amended to create a specific legal framework for the use of bodycams by police services. This development is a response to the increasing use of bodycams by police zones and the need for clear rules for their use.

BODYCAMS IN PRACTICE

Bodycams, small cameras worn on the bodies of police personnel, record all events within the lens's field of view and have proven to be essential in addressing violence against and by the police. These cameras assist in contextualizing and objectifying incidents through video and audio recordings. Scientific research confirms that bodycams have a de-escalating effect.

THE NEED FOR SPECIFIC REGULATION

Before this legislation was introduced, bodycams were subject to general regulations for mobile cameras. However, given their unique function as part of the uniform and their ability to record privacy-sensitive interactions, there was a need for specific rules. Interestingly, these cameras can also record before they are actively turned on, through the 'pre-recording' feature, capturing interactions just before or after activation.

SPECIFIC CONDITIONS AND USAGE RULES

The law specifies particular situations in which operational police members may use bodycams, such as during serious incidents, collecting evidence, or when they are deemed to be executing judicial orders. Moreover, a verbal warning must be given before each use of a bodycam, unless this endangers the operation.

An oral warning is not necessary when:

  • There is a potential danger to the safety of both the operational team member and third parties;
  • It can be extremely difficult or practically unfeasible, considering the number of individuals that need to be warned or the significant distance between them and the operational team member;
  • It would be inappropriate, as it would seriously disrupt the efficient progress of the mission;

DATA STORAGE AND PRIVACY

The law also requires that personal data and recordings be kept for at least 30 days. Responsible individuals within the police services must ensure the storage of relevant data in a register.

FUTURE CHANGES

An additional amendment, coming into effect on November 21, 2025, concerns the retention period of data recorded by cameras in police detention places. This period is changed from a maximum of 12 months to a minimum of 30 days.

IMPLEMENTATION

The new rules for the use of bodycams have been in effect since January 21, 2024, two months after the announcement in the Belgian Official Gazette.

Source: Act amending the Police Service Act concerning the use of individual cameras by police services, BOJ November 20, 2023.

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