Bill Would Bar Public From Viewing Police Body-Cam Videos

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If passed, a bill introduced in the Minnesota House, Thursday, would bar the public from seeing any videos recorded by police body cameras.

State law requires body camera video to be accessible to the public. But some lawmakers say it should be private to protect the public from ’embarrassing situations.’

“You could have a half naked housewife that’s been beat up with a bloody face, half naked kids running around,” said state Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center. “You could have a gun collection. That information needs to remain private.”

Cornish, chair of the House Public Safety Committee, introduced the bill which would classify the video from body cameras as private data accessible only to law enforcement and the subjects of the video. He said privacy concerns and the cost of redacting data are the reasons to keep the videos confidential.

“Naturally, it’s going to be something other than public,” Cornish said. “You aren’t going to have huge amounts of footage of innocent people, put into storage or a hard drive and allow people to walk in and get it.”

Cornish’s bill also requires police departments to destroy any data not involved in an active or inactive criminal investigation after 90 days.

Legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, Ben Feist, responded to the proposal by saying keeping body cam video private defeats the entire purpose.

“That’s the only way the public will know if a police officer crosses the line,” Feist said. “Our concern is that if you make it too private, the whole idea that we are able to use the body cameras to watch the police, to turn this around and say this is surveillance of law enforcement, really falls by the wayside.”

Feist said he’s open to keeping some video private, including footage taken in a private residences or pictures of a police informant, but that the public at large should for the most part have unfettered access to the videos.

Lawmakers hope to reach an agreement before the end of the legislative session in May.