Using Video Cameras as a Research Tool in Public Spaces: Addressing Ethical and Information Governance Challenges Under Data Protection Legislation

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Jack S. Benton Manchester Centre for Health Psychology, Division of Psychology & Mental Health, School of Health Sciences, The University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom

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James Evans Manchester Urban Institute, Department of Geography, School of Environment, Education and Development, The University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom

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Miranda Mourby Centre for Heath, Law and Emerging Technologies (‘HeLEX’), Faculty of Law, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

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Mark J. Elliot School of Social Sciences, The University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom

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Jamie Anderson Manchester Urban Institute, Department of Geography, School of Environment, Education and Development, The University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom

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J. Aaron Hipp Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management, NC State University, Raleigh, NC, USA

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David P. French Manchester Centre for Health Psychology, Division of Psychology & Mental Health, School of Health Sciences, The University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom

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Systematic observation is a promising unobtrusive method of assessing human behavior in urban environments without many issues typically associated with self-report measures (e.g., recall bias, low response rates). Improvements in video camera technologies make it more feasible for researchers to conduct systematic observation, which could reduce the time, labor, and cost to facilitate high-quality observational research in urban environments at scale. However, there are important ethical and information governance challenges driven by data protection laws, which discourage many researchers from using camera-based observation methods. The European Union General Data Protection Regulation is a leading global standard for data protection. Drawing on our experiences of conducting three studies using video cameras in public spaces, we discuss how to conduct this kind of research in line with General Data Protection Regulation requirements. The paper outlines issues concerning data protection, privacy, informed consent, and confidentiality, and how we addressed them. In doing this, the paper provides support for responsible use of camera-based observation methods, which will be of value to researchers, ethics committees, and funders. Outlining how to use video cameras responsibly will enable more research to be conducted that, in turn, will build the case for its benefits to researchers and society.

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