ACLU-NJ Helps Secure Win for Closed-Circuit TV Transparency in Bloomfield

City Failed to Show that Giving Access to Security Footage of Public Space Was a Threat to Security, Appellate Division Ruled

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
May 14, 2015 5:30 pm

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NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey won a victory for open government when a court ruled that the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) applies to surveillance footage unless the government can establish that disclosing it would create legitimate security problems. Bloomfield in this case failed to establish any specific harms that would come from releasing the requested footage.

In the ruling, the court upheld a lower court decision that footage from a clearly visible surveillance camera on the grounds outside of Bloomfield’s Town Hall was not exempt from OPRA. Bloomfield essentially argued that public security cameras were not subject to OPRA because of general security concerns, an argument the court rejected.

“This victory is an important win for openness in the Garden State, in that the government can’t exclude an entire medium from transparency laws simply because its function overlaps with security,” said Lance J. Kalik of Riker Danzig, which authored the amicus curiae brief submitted by the ACLU-NJ. “The court showed an understanding that vague fears and speculations do not trump the public’s right to access.”

In this case, Gilleran v. Bloomfield, Patricia Gilleran requested a block of footage from a specific day captured by a camera in the rear of Bloomfield’s Town Hall pointed at a public parking lot and the back entrance to the building. Bloomfield argued that “allowing access … to the video surveillance would defeat the entire purpose of having security cameras on Town Hall.” The ACLU-NJ and Gilleran’s attorney pointed out that, because the camera focused on a public area, no confidential information would be contained in the video, as everything on the video could have been viewed by a person standing nearby in a publicly-accessible space.

The Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court ruled that the town’s objections were speculative rather than specific, and supported the ACLU-NJ’s argument that Bloomfield’s interpretation of OPRA, if adopted broadly, would in effect exclude any closed-circuit television footage from OPRA’s domain. The court made clear that analysis must be done on a case-by-case basis and that the burden is on the government to provide sufficient evidence as to why disclosure would create security problems.

The Appellate Division’s opinion can be read online.

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