Following the unrest caused by the death of Michael Brown in the US state of Ferguson, Missouri, last year, state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle introduced more than 40 bills amending the law enforcement and court systems, with one proving particularly controversial.
State Sen. Doug Libla introduced a bill that would exempt any videos taken by the US police, including everything from body cameras to dashboard cameras, from public release, Huffington Post reported.
Currently, any member of the public can request such material through the state’s open records law, with a few narrow exemptions including cases involving juveniles or open investigations. If it becomes law, Libla’s bill would ban the public from viewing any videos.
“Any recording captured by a camera” used by or attached to a police officer “shall not be a public record for purposes of the state’s open records law… and shall not be disclosed by a law enforcement agency except upon order of a court in the course of a criminal investigation or prosecution or civil litigation,” the bill reads. The text also adds that “no law enforcement agency shall be required by the state to provide cameras… to officers employed by the agency, not shall the state require any peace officer to wear such cameras.”
The Missouri Press Association and American Civil Liberties Union have both testified against the bill, citing a need for transparency.
“We should not be in a state where secret police records are the norm,” said Sheldon Lineback, the executive director of the Missouri Press Association. “Refusing to release records can only lead to mistrust.”
Others, including Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster (D), have expressed concerns about providing more access to police videos.
“Currently, Missouri’s Sunshine Law provides news media and entertainment producers nearly unfettered access to videos from body-worn cameras. Adoption of body-worn cameras must not lead to a new era of voyeurism and entertainment television at the expense of Missourians’ privacy,” Koster recently wrote. “Therefore, I urge [state lawmakers] to consider amendments…to protect such video footage from those who would monetize it or use it to exploit the people it depicts.”