ACLU of Pennsylvania Outlines Solutions to Balance Privacy and Transparency in Police Use of Body-Worn Cameras

January 24, 2017
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Proposals Offered in Letter to Senate Committee Chairmen Greenleaf and Leach 

HARRISBURG – On the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s first full day of work for the 2017-18 session, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania yesterday offered solutions to the thorny question of regulating police use of body-worn cameras. In a letter issued to Senator Stewart Greenleaf and Senator Daylin Leach, the Republican and Democratic chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee, respectively, the ACLU of Pennsylvania highlighted recommendations to balance privacy protections for victims, witnesses, and police with the need for transparency in government agencies.

“When the police use cameras, the governance of their use is extremely important,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Without transparency, police cameras become another tool of manipulation and surveillance. Without privacy, video becomes fodder for gossip and humiliation.

“The solutions we have offered balance those interests and provide a path forward on this issue.”

In a co-sponsorship memo dated December 12, Greenleaf announced his intention to reintroduce legislation from last session on this issue. That bill, Senate Bill 976, was amended on October 18 and passed by the Senate the following day. The ACLU of Pennsylvania opposed the amended version of the bill because it made public access to police video that is in the public interest nearly impossible.

The recommendations offered in the letter to the senators fix the flaws in SB 976. The solutions include recognizing video from police cameras as an open record under the Right to Know Law with an exception for video captured inside a residence, requiring that cameras are on when police interact with the public, and requiring that the faces of victims, witnesses, and bystanders are redacted in video that is released publicly.

“When the mistreatment of people by the police became a high profile issue two years ago, there was a rush by public officials to embrace police use of body cameras,” said Andy Hoover, communications director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The bill that passed the Senate last session would have made the situation worse, not better, by unfairly making cameras a tool for the police but not the public.

“The solutions we’ve offered here bring balance to everyone’s interests and ensure transparency and accountability for everyone- both the police and the people they encounter.”

Greenleaf’s new bill has not yet been introduced. The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s letter is available here.

Category: Police Practices
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