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Redacting Videos for Court

Redacting Videos for Court
November 17, 2022
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Smartphones and tablet cameras are ubiquitous, as are the ever-increasing numbers of CCTV security cameras installed by the government, businesses, and private homeowners. Law enforcement agencies can also access and use the footage for legal and security purposes, from dash cameras on fleet and patrol cars to body-worn cameras. In fact, almost 80% of court cases include video evidence.

In order to support privacy of individuals or their property in videos, measures need to be taken to obscure sensitive information.  With the amount of footage that requires preparation,  redacting video footage needs to be accessible and easy to do.  The importance of the footage in a case cannot be underestimated, as it corroborates and strengthens witness testimony and can bring criminals to justice. 

Other sources that provide video footage for use in court include:

  • Officer body camera footage
  • Traffic and toll-booth cameras
  • Red-light cameras
  • License plate readers
  • Video/audio recording technology which is triggered by gunshots
  • Law enforcement interviews conducted at police stations

Thanks largely to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which sets the standard in the EU and influences US privacy laws, personally identifiable information (PII) such as faces, bodies, and license plates must be redacted when shared in a public forum such as the courts.

This article will cover why redaction is necessary in court and why it is so important.

What Does it Mean to Redact a Video?

Redaction essentially means censoring or obscuring a part of a file (be it text, audio, image, document, or video). This conceals confidential or vulnerable information within and before the file's release. It might be security-related or can be for legal or compliance purposes. 

In short, people, faces, vehicles, audio, license plates, healthcare records, identity cards, and financial and other confidential information such as symbols, tattoos, and logos can be obscured from view by blurring.

Why Video Redaction is Critical for Protecting Privacy and Avoiding Lawsuits

Video redaction not only protects the privacy of witnesses and bystanders but also prevents lawsuits against organizations, law enforcement agencies, and government institutions exposed to or collecting personal information that might violate data privacy laws.

These laws include:

  • GDPR
  • Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
  • Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP)
  • Other US Privacy Laws that have been or are currently being promulgated by various states (such as the California Consumer Privacy Act)
Why Video Redaction is Critical for Protecting Privacy and Avoiding Lawsuits

Retention of Video Records

Companies and government agencies must be compliant with privacy laws. Aside from PII, these entities are also expected to know how long video records can be kept, since the length of time depends on how the records are used.

Closed-circuit security footage may only need to be retained for 30 days, while certain law enforcement, investigatory, and telehealth records must be held for up to 75 years.

Video redaction technology and protocols should be considered as soon as video footage collection begins. 

Making preparations for future requests for video is vital, so it is important to have the right tools and training in place now to meet those needs. A budget, timeline, and role should be identified to complete the necessary redaction work. (This also negates the panic when statutory or court-ordered demands with quick deadlines are made for redacted video.)

Finding the right software depends on: 

  • Video format
  • File size
  • Average video length
  • Content of records
  • Request volume
  • Budget
  • Personnel skills 

Unearthing Relevant, Reliable Evidence

Since the context and timing of video evidence are paramount in a trial, attorneys must understand the context of incidents in the video evidence so irrelevant sections can be removed which may reduce the amount of redaction required. As per their legal training, attorneys and their teams are familiar with constituting personal information that requires redaction that aligns with the relevant facts that need to be present in the video evidence. 

Video transcription is important to compliance as well and allows those who cannot hear the audio to read the transcription.  Audio redaction is another important tool that allows names or other sensitive information to be removed and not captured as part of the court record.

Prosecutors should review whether law enforcement investigators have identified and recovered all existing video evidence relevant to a case. The evidence presented needs to be relevant and necessary to support arguments. Technology like computer-aided dispatch integration facilitates incident response and communication in the field and searches calls, texts, and radio recordings linked to a crime.

What Evidence is Admissible?

The Federal Rules of Evidence determine what evidence is admissible at trial. Evidence must not have been tampered with and should have been lawfully obtained from a reliable source.

Video files have to be authenticated before they can be introduced into evidence. An eyewitness with knowledge may be called on to testify to the authenticity of the footage. If no eyewitness is available to testify, the "silent witness theory" can apply, and the capturing environment of the footage will be considered.

If the video evidence captured comes from a properly-managed system where security is tight, such as a bank, it may stand alone as substantive evidence.

A complete chain of custody ensures evidence integrity. Unfortunately, with the prevalence of video editing software, it is easy to manipulate video footage.

Maintaining the Chain of Custody

Proper security protocols, such as end-to-end encryption; permissions given to users and groups; single sign-on (SSO) which enables users to authenticate with numerous applications and websites by using one set of credentials; and advance sharing controls (password protection, link expiry, and limited viewing) help to ensure that law enforcement and legal attorneys fulfill the court's prerequisites for video evidence admissibility.

Law enforcement may use a duplicate file version when analyzing and enhancing the video. But in court, it is safest to present the original recording, and attorneys have to anticipate claims against how video evidence was created.

Sighthound Redactor: Making Video Redaction Simple

Using Sighthound Redactor for video redaction makes it possible for the legal system to allow vital evidence without breaking privacy laws. Sighthound offers video redaction software that's easy to use and advanced enough to handle variations of lighting and camera angles.

With never ending preparation tasks for law firms, this software's simplicity and automated functions assist in meeting  court-ordered time constraints.  While Redactor is easy to use and does not require a technical skill set, Sighthound offers onboarding and training resources to make each user efficient in completing their redaction work.  Another time saver for firms with large redaction requirements is the bulk upload and export feature.   

Protecting Law Enforcement staff during interrogation with redaction

In addition to manual selection controls for redaction that needs a human touch, reliable Artificial Intelligence (AI) redaction capabilities allow for quick redaction and short processing time while ensuring privacy compliance. 

Regardless of the volume of video that requires redaction, Redactor has a solution and a subscription plan that works for your budget. Leverage the free trial today to see how fast and easy you can comply with data privacy requirements.

Get Started with Redactor