ACLU Lawsuit Seeks Access to Rohode Island Police Surveillance Policies

August 8, 2000 12:00 am

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ACLU Lawsuit Seeks Access to
Rhode Island Police Surveillance Policies

Tuesday, August 8, 2000

PROVIDENCE, RI — The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island filed suit today against the Providence Police Department for refusing to reveal its policies regarding the city’s use of surveillance cameras in police cars and in public locations throughout the city.

“Use of cameras by police carries tremendous potential for abuse,” said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “One’s sense of freedom is inevitably diminished when the police begin using high-tech surveillance to monitor our lawful movements, associations and political and social activities in public places.”

Among other things, the ACLU is seeking information on how the city’s policies address such issues as restrictions on the cameras’ use, who has access to the videotapes, and how long the tapes are retained.

On May 31, the ACLU filed a formal request with the Police Department for a copy of those policies. However, a day later, the police department denied the request, claiming that the policies were exempt from disclosure.

In its lawsuit today, the ACLU is seeking a court order that will require the city to release the policies, award attorneys fees, and impose a civil fine against the police department.

“The records requested by the ACLU are precisely the type of records that are deemed public under the Open Records Act,” said Staci L. Sawyer, an ACLU volunteer attorney. “The police department’s refusal to reveal the records violates the laws of the state and the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

While the ACLU does not oppose the use of cameras in police cars, the organization has called for clear policies to prevent their misuse.

The ACLU recently concluded a five-year legal battle to obtain copies of police misconduct records from the department on behalf of a local community group.

“This is just the latest example of the Providence Police Department’s obsession with secrecy at the expense of the public’s right to know,” Brown said. “Denying public access to its policies is especially ironic for an agency that seems so eager to invade the privacy of others through video surveillance.”

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