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Controversial police body camera bill would restrict access to footage in Wisconsin

Citing privacy concerns, the bill's proponents would limit when footage is eligible for public records requests.

Zaid Shoorbajee
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Zaid Shoorbajee Staff Reporter

Zaid Shoorbajee is a contributing writer at Scoop News Group, parent of StateScoop.

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Amid an ongoing national discussion about shootings involving police, a bill in Wisconsin could limit access to footage recorded on police body cameras in the state. The Republican-sponsored legislation is headed to the state assembly after passing a committee on criminal justice and public safety on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

The billheralded by Wisconsin law enforcement agencies and opposed by public information advocates, proposes to give law enforcement agencies in the state more control over the release of body camera footage. Namely, all footage would be exempt from Wisconsin open record laws except when it involves death, injury or arrest. 

In those cases, the law would restrict the release of footage if it is taken somewhere with a "reasonable expectation of privacy." Police would have to obtain permission from victims and witnesses on tape as well as owners of depicted property if someone makes a public record request for such footage.

The bill passed its committee hearing in an 8-4 vote divided along party lines.

According to the AP, those supporting the bill say it aims to protect the privacy of people unknowingly filmed on body cameras, while opponents say it is too restrictive of what should be public information.

"This is a bad bill that if passed will deny access to videos the public is paying for," said Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, in an email to StateScoop. "It will even keep police from releasing video that backs up their accounts. It does nothing to respect or protect the public's right to see these videos, undercutting the whole reason for their existence."

The bill only affects Wisconsin police agencies that use body cameras. Wisconsin is not one of the five states requiring body camera use in some way. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 23 states and the District of Columbia currently have laws addressing body camera footage as it pertains to open record requests, with varying degrees of restriction.

The bill still has to pass votes in Wisconsin's Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate before going to Gov. Scott Walker, also a Republican, to sign.

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States, Wisconsin, State & Local News, Public Safety, Law Enforcement, police, body cameras, body cam, Wisconsin, Scott Walker, public records, public information

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