TWIN FALLS • As police body cameras become more prevalent across Idaho, lawmakers say it will be important to regulate their use.
The use of cameras during public interactions has created questions of how to balance government transparency with citizen privacy. As recordings of witness statements, bystander actions and victims’ homes are collected, lawmakers want to know who will have access to the footage.
Many states have bills dictating when cameras have to be turned on, how long footage can be stored and who should have access to the footage, but Idaho has not created any such laws.
“The worst thing that could happen is police agencies getting these tools and putting them to use without any thought about how to address these problems,” said Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs.
A big push for the devices stems from the potential the camera has for police oversight and protecting against the abuse of power, but without regulations for when the camera is turned on, the device is vulnerable to on-the-fly editing as the officer chooses which encounters to record.
On the other hand, if the cameras were to constantly record, a lot of sensitive information could be gathered.
“It is pretty scary to think about what the public would have access to,” Loebs said.
Currently, individual agencies are determining the policies they will operate under in Idaho, but Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, said these policies that lack the backing of laws are rarely followed. Compliance with these policies is as low as 30 percent, Stanley said in a statement.
“It’s all completely open at the moment,” Lobes said.
The Idaho House of Representatives’ committee for Judiciary Rules and Administrations has not yet discussed statewide regulations, but many legislators say it is something that will have to be done in the future.
“It is something we should look at at, but I don’t think there has been any official action taken so far,” said Rep. Mark Nye, a Democrat from Pocatello.
One point legislators will have to decide is whether the footage collected is subject to public information laws. Due to privacy concerns, lawmakers may decide to exclude the content or to offer only edited clips.
“Idaho has a fairly long tradition of having open records, but I think in this particular case, because it involves the real time collection of information it is important to make sure it is done right,” said Rep. Stephen Hartgen R-Twin Falls. “I think as legislators we will err on the side of protecting privacy.”
One of Hartgen’s concerns is that unrestricted access could lend itself to blogs dedicated to seeking out embarrassing situations. These blogs could end up having access to videos of embarrassing DUI’s or busted parties with the intent of poking fun, Hartgen said.
“I don’t know if anyone is looking into modifying open records law,” Hartgen said. “I think those questions will really have to be answered as we look at what other states are doing.”
To protect citizen’s privacy, some lawmakers said the footage should be treated like other evidence gathered at crime scenes with access given only to attorneys prior to a trial.
“I don’t know,” Lance Chow, R-Twin Falls, said. “I could see if the cameras were used and used a lot there could be some issues not just in protecting police, but in protecting privacy with what is caught on video with victims.”
Issues that arise in Idaho will be dictated in part by regulations controlling what is caught on tape in the first place. By creating a framework for the cameras to operate in, lawmakers hope they will be able to address many of the problems before they arise.
“I think the only way to develop intelligent guidelines is to have police agencies sit down with prosecutors to go over all the possible problems,” Loebs said. “Then maybe it could be taken to the state level.”