Today’s question is a question relating to the use of video cameras by Victorian Paramedics. Today’s correspondent says:

I’m an ALS paramedic with Ambulance Victoria and am involved in the Body Camera Trial. I have a question regarding consent with these cameras and was hoping you could help. We have been instructed to inform patients that they are being recorded (visual and audio) at the time that we choose to turn the cameras on.

Is this necessary and for what purpose must we gain this consent? I ask the question because we recently attended a very busy house, with lots of people whom I would have filmed. Must I gain consent from, say, each person who I speak with?

I fear this process could:

  1. be impossible, imagine attending a large house party and
  2. ‘silently’ activating my camera may provide less cause for grievance. I have already had patients, in their home, refuse to be recorded.

All in all, my colleagues and myself are very confused regarding this issue.

I think I have, to a large extent, answered the questions in my original post on this subject – Body cameras for Victorian paramedics (December 19, 2016) – but today’s question does raise a couple of issues for clarification.   In answering this question I do not have access to any protocols or procedures published by Victoria Ambulance on the appropriate use of these cameras.

In my post of December 2016 I said:

Cameras worn by paramedics will largely be recording conversations and activities to which the paramedic is a party, ie conversations and interaction between the paramedic and someone else in which case the recording may be made without the need to obtain the patient’s consent.

In a media release issued on 21 June 2017 the Victorian Premier, said:

Paramedics who opt to wear the cameras will start recording if they feel at risk or are threatened, warning people they are being filmed. Vision can then be used as evidence for police investigations and prosecutions.

I think the critical word in the Premier’s statement is that paramedics will warn people they are being recorded.  As my correspondent also says ‘We have been instructed to inform patients that they are being recorded…’ Informing someone that something is happening is not the same as getting their consent.  In simple terms the statement ‘I’m recording this conversation’ is different to ‘I would like to record this conversation, is that ok?’

Based on my understanding of the law and of the trial (an understanding which is limited to the Premier’s media release) paramedics do not need to obtain consent to record the interaction, they just need to tell the person they are doing it.

The first question I was asked was:

Is this necessary and for what purpose must we gain this consent?

The answer is that asking for consent is not necessary but it is wise to tell people they are being recorded as that will reduce potential objections to the use of the video in evidence if that is later required. Police are required to caution a person that what they say may be used in evidence against them. Paramedics are not police and are not arresting a person so they don’t have to issue that caution but there can be objections to the use of evidence where a person did not know it was being collected. For example, one can object to the use of evidence if its use, or the manner in which it was collected, is unfair to the accused. Telling a person that they are being recorded will help remove that objection if they then commit an offence, or make admissions about an offence, whilst being recorded.

Must I gain consent from, say, each person who I speak with?

As noted you do not need to gain consent, the requirement is to inform people.  Certainly if you are at a scene with lots of people I can’t see that you either need to, nor could inform everyone.  I would suggest that the appropriate response would be to activate the camera and inform people you have direct contact with, eg the patient and those looking after him or her.  It would also be prudent to inform anyone else you engage with if the communication is more than trivial and certainly if you think they pose a threat to you. The hope is that if someone is being aggressive telling them they are being recorded may make them stop and think twice (of course it also may not, I have no idea if there is any evidence one way or the other).

It’s always going to be a matter of judgement. If you enter a large, complex scene with lots of people you might turn the camera on as you don’t know what you’re going to and as you simply interact with people you can’t inform them.  Once you get to a patient and start treating you may say to them ‘I’ll just let you know I am recording our conversation and my treatment’ and that would be sufficient.  The question of whether the presence, or not, of a warning would make any difference to later use of the video would depend on all the circumstances.