Addressing Challenges, Balancing Solutions: Body Camera & MPIA Discussion at the 2015 MACo Winter Conference

City Solicitor and ACLU Attorney discuss the challenges police body camera footage poses under the MPIA and potential solutions.

At the MACo winter conference session, I Spy With My Little Eye – Police Body Cameras and the Maryland Public Information Act, attendees learned about the challenges and potential solutions police body camera footage generates under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA).

Hilary Ruley, Chief Solicitor, General Counsel Division, Baltimore City
Hilary Ruley, Chief Solicitor, General Counsel Division, Baltimore City

Hilary Ruley, Chief Solicitor, General Counsel Division for Baltimore City and David Rocah, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, began by providing the audience with an overview of the structure for the MPIA. Ruley discussed what records must be disclosed, what records are not allowed to be disclosed, and the liability governments face if they disclose information that must be protected. Rocah discussed the analysis tree used to determine disclosure and the assorted categories of records, pieces of information and persons/reasons for the request that go into determining disclosure. Ruley also provided a summary of MACo’s proposal to address body camera footage under the MPIA.

David Rocah, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU of Maryland
David Rocah, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU of Maryland

The remainder of the discussion focused on the challenges local governments face and what solutions or protections are currently in place or needed to overcome those challenges. Ruley emphasized the requirements governments must follow to protect the privacy of individuals under the MPIA, and the extensive resources (time and money) associated with the process of redacting sensitive information to avoid liability. She explained that the costs are not in the purchase of the cameras or storing the video but the in the redaction process to ensure compliance with privacy protections, which can be prohibitive with large requests. Rocah shared the ACLU’s disagreement on Ruley’s application of the privacy and disclosure requirements under the MPIA and the need for additional protections. He also emphasized the importance of public access to video footage to ensure there is accountability and transparency for law enforcement activities.

The discussion covered many of the issues associated with access to footage and the difficulties in finding solutions. There was an agreement that body camera footage generates privacy concerns and that protections should be in place. There was less of an agreement as to whether current protections are sufficient or whether additional protections are needed. These continue to be issues worthy of thorough review as local jurisdictions consider the use of police body cameras.

The session was moderated by Cecil County Executive Tari Moore and was held Thursday, December 10, 2015 at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland.

 

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