Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter June 20, 2020

The Ethics of Police Body-Worn Cameras

Frej Klem Thomsen


Over the past decade, police departments in many countries have experimented with and increasingly adopted the use of police body-worn cameras (PBWCs). This article aims to examine the moral issues raised by the use of PBWCs, and to provide an overall assessment of the conditions under which the use of PBWCs is morally permissible. It first reviews the current evidence for the effects of using PBWCs. On the basis of this review the article sets out a teleological argument for the use of PBWCs. The final two sections of the article review two deontological objections to the use of PBWCs: the idea that use of PBWCs is based on or expresses disrespectful mistrust, and the idea that the use of PBWCs violates a right to privacy. The article argues that neither of these objections is persuasive, and concludes that we should conditionally accept and support the use of PBWCs.


I have presented drafts of this paper at a 2018 Roskilde University Moral Philosophy seminar, a 2019 conference on mass state surveillance at Karlsruhe Institut für Technologie, and the 2019 Braga Meetings in Ethics and Political Philosophy. I am grateful for helpful comments on these and other occasions from William Bülow, Matthew Hall, Sean Kaplan, Rune Klingenberg Hansen, Kristian Kragh, Peter Königs, Sune Lægaard, Chris Nathan, Nora Ni Loideain, Kevin Macnish, Ingmar Persson, Scott Robbins, Christian Seidel, Patrick Smith, Thomas Søbirk Petersen, Jørn Sønderholm, Jakob Thrane Mainz, and Anette Zimmerman. I am further grateful for many helpful comments from two anonymous reviewers for the journal and the guest editor of this special issue. Finally, the article owes a great debt above all to Jesper Ryberg, not merely for his invaluable comments on this specific article, but for his style of argument, long exposure to which I suspect has led me to inadvertently (if perhaps not quite successfully) imitate.


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Published Online: 2020-06-20
Published in Print: 2020-05-26

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