FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sept 11, 2017
We See You Watching Lexington Wins Open Records Appeal – LPD Must Release Info on Surveillance
We See You Watching Lexington won an open records appeal, and the Lexington Police Department will have to release information on surveillance technology it owns and operates.
The LPD has 29 mobile surveillance cameras. In an open records request, We See you Watching Lexington asked for information pertaining to these cameras, including purchase orders, receipts, federal grant applications and documents relating to the policies that govern their use. The LPD denied the request, citing a statute that exempts certain documents relating to homeland security, along with a second statute exempting certain “investigative reports.”
On appeal, the attorney general’s office rejected both exemptions claimed by the LPD.
“LPD failed to satisfy its burden of proving the disclosure of the records in dispute would have a reasonable likelihood of threatening the public safety as required to successfully involve KRS61.878(1)(m), and improperly relied upon KRS17.150(2)(b) and (c); KRS17.150(2) is facially inapplicable.”
The AG’s decision leaves the LPD the option of redacting operationally sensitive information, but rejects its blanket denial of the open records request.
“We are extremely pleased with this decision,” We See You Watching Lexington director Mike Maharrey said. “We have a right to know what kind of surveillance operations the police department runs and how they might impact our privacy. We also have a right to know how our tax dollars are being spent. Police are trying to keep their spy programs wrapped up in a veil of secrecy. We appreciate the AG’s office giving us a tool to pierce the veil.”
We See You Watching Lexington made the initial open records request after the city installed surveillance cameras at Berry Hill Skate Park earlier this summer. Maharrey said the sudden appearance of the cameras and the fact there aren’t any policies in place to guide government surveillance programs raises significant concern.
“As I started looking into the cameras at Berry Hill, it quickly became clear that when it comes to surveillance, Lexington is pretty much making things up as it goes. There are no policies in place to protect privacy. I’ve already gotten my hands on footage from those cameras,” he said. “But it goes beyond that. The police already have these mobile cameras, and they don’t want us to know anything about them. They are using these things with no oversight and no accountability. Surveillance technology is proliferating at a rapid rate. The city council needs to takes steps to ensure all surveillance programs are operated within strict parameters. It’s too late after police get stingrays, license plate readers and other intrusive technology. We don’t want to put ourselves in a situation where we’re trying to slam the barn door shut after the horses are already running loose.”
We See You Watching Lexington is pushing the Urban County Council to consider a local ordinance developed by the ACLU that will take the first step toward limiting the unchecked use of surveillance technologies that violate basic privacy rights and feed into the broader national surveillance state.
This proposed legislation would require the LPD and other government agencies to develop a comprehensive surveillance plan and get approval from the city council before obtaining any type of surveillance technology.
“There’s no doubt that law enforcement agencies use surveillance for legitimate law enforcement purposes. But the intrusive nature of the technology opens the door for abuse, including gross violations of basic privacy rights,” Maharrey said. “We want to ensure all surveillance programs in Lexington are transparent, and that government agencies remain accountable to the public and elected officials.”
You can read the entire 12-page attorney general decision HERE.
We See You Watching Lexington is a coalition of people concerned about privacy and government surveillance in Lexington, Kentucky. Our goal is to “watch the watchers,” and ensure surveillance programs operated by the Lexington Police Department and other government agencies are transparent, accountable, and kept within strict parameters.