Following in the footsteps of North Carolina (on which Stonegait previously reported), the Pennsylvania General Assembly is considering a bill that impacts government transparency and police accountability.
Per the Pittsburgh Post – Gazette, the bill before the Pennsylvania house has noticeable similarities with the anti-transparency law passed by the North Carolina legislature:
“The bill would require anyone seeking access to data from body cameras to identify every person in the video before the video had been viewed. It would also give law enforcement the ability to deny the request if the information being sought was part of an active investigation. If requesters appeal, they would have to pay $250 filing fees.”
In other words, for the average citizen, gaining access to body camera footage (even if that citizen is the in the video), would be nearly impossible.
If passed, this law, like the one in North Carolina, would give more rights to police than to the public. In general, the precedent is there is not an expectation of privacy in public, which is why surveillance cameras in public spaces are legal and why news crews can broadcast car accidents. But this law would curtail that by giving public interactions between police and citizens an expectation of not only privacy, but also secrecy.
Proponents of the bill say that the point of body cameras is to gather evidence and that said evidence is very sensitive, private information. That is a fallible statement, as the intention of body cameras is to capture all interactions between citizens and police. This argument also ignores the fact that many of these interactions take place in public spaces, and the public has a vested interest in the information gathered. Police body cameras create government accountability, and it is a far stretch to say their only purpose is to gather evidence.
The clause making body camera footage unobtainable by the public is concealed in the commonwealth’s Wiretapping Act, which was handily passed without debate, causing greater concern as to the intentions of the bill.
Overall, this is a blatant move to make police officers a special class of citizens and ignores the basic principles behind the adoption of body cameras by police forces. Governments took righteous steps in adding a layer of accountability, yet they are just as quickly marching away from these welcome measures. If taxpayers have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public, neither should police.
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