The Star Tribune editorial board has urged the legislature to strike a different balance in its final body camera legislation than the position recently taken by the Minnesota Senate. The Senate bill – passed earlier this week – would make most body camera video “private” data. Such data would only be accessible to subjects captured by the video, or to the police who collected the footage. The Senate bill makes an exception for a very limited category of data – video captured in a public place that documents police use of a dangerous weapon, or police use of force that results in substantial bodily harm.
Body cameras have been used in Minnesota for almost six years under the current terms of the Data Practices Act, which provides public access to much footage, but also provides privacy protections to over a dozen categories of individuals, including undercover officers and certain crime victims. If images of those persons are present in body camera recordings, they must be redacted (“blurred out”) before the footage is released. If police departments do not have the technology to redact videos, they currently have the discretion to edit out sections that contain protected images.
Given the fact that the public has had access to much body camera footage for several years now – and to dash cam videos for many years prior – reclassifying most body cam footage as “private” takes too broad a brush to the regulatory questions surrounding body camera data. We agree with the Star Tribune that a more nuanced approach is needed – an approach that is more mindful of government transparency.