Customs officials required to use body-worn cameras by October 1

·3 min read

STARTING October 1, 2021, the use of body-worn cameras and the recording of events by Customs Police Authority in the conduct of customs operations will be mandatory, according to new rules issued by the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Customs Memorandum Order 33-2021 on the "Rules on the use of Body-Worn Cameras in the exercise of Customs Police Authority and other Customs Operations," cites the customs operations that shall be recorded as including approved controlled delivery operations; boarding formalities; conduct of auction sales; destruction or condemnation of goods, including the transport thereof to the designated facility; and Electronic Tracking of Containerized Cargo (E-TRACC)-related operations, particularly the conduct of investigation upon report of violation of E-TRACC rules and regulations.

The order, issued by Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero on August 27, 2021, also includes the following occasions where the body-worn cameras must be worn and record events: fuel marking operations, guarding duty at customs import exit gates for containers/cargoes, if applicable; hot pursuit; inspection of consignees' offices; non-intrusive examination of goods; physical examination of goods within and/or outside of the customs zone; search of persons arriving from foreign countries; service of Letter of Authority; search of vehicles, other carriers, persons and animals; or search on vessels or aircraft and persons or goods conveyed therein.

However, the order says there are also circumstances where the cameras or alternative recording devices may be turned off during enforcement operations.

These include encounters with undercover officers or confidential informants; when customs and employees are on break or engaged in non-work-related activities; inside restrooms, locker rooms or other places with similar expectation of privacy unless the area is covered by a search warrant; in residences, unless the record is made pursuant to a valid arrest or search warrant of the individuals or locations; strip or body cavity searches; and privileged communications between the subject of the recordings and other individuals like attorneys, members of the clergy, medical professionals and peer support counselors.

On activating the camera, customs officials or employees must record their name and rank, date and time the recording has started, or the time the recording will be turned off; as well as the subject and location of the customs operation.

If they turn off the camera during the enforcement operation, they must first record on the camera their reason for switching off the camera before doing so.

CMO 33-2021 was issued in relation to Supreme Court Administrative Matter No. 21-06-08-SC known as the Rules on the Use of Body-Worn Cameras in the Execution of Warrants.

There is a safeguard against using the cameras surreptitiously.

The order specifies that the body-worn camera must be attached to the customs employee or official’s uniform in a manner that is visible to the public.

For unscrupulous individuals hoping that the body-worn cameras break down during the operation, there is no escape. The order says the recording of the event shall continue using alternative recording devices.

The data from the cameras or alternative recording devices must be downloaded for safekeeping within 24 hours from the time of their recording by the Data Custodian or an authorized representative, with a third person allowed to witness the downloading to prevent tampering.

The recording shall be deleted after 45 days unless it is material to an investigation being conducted or a case has been filed or is pending before the court, or on instruction of the commissioner.

Customs officials or employees who fail to use the camera, without reasonable grounds, or who interfere with the camera’s ability to capture audio and video recordings of the arrest, or who manipulate the recording during or after the arrest face criminal, civil and administrative liability. (CTL)

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