Privacy Bills in the House, a First Look: Polly Lawrence Wants a CORA Exeption for Surveillance Images
by Eileen | 8:38 am, January 28, 2013 | Comments Off
WHAT: HB 13-1112, Exempting images taken by ‘monitoring devices’ from CORA requests
WHY:They probably think they’re helping.
At first glance, this looks like a great bill for privacy advocates. Let’s come up with a standard definition of a ‘monitoring device’ and exempt the images they take from CORA requests, except to the people in the image.
Ah, but there are some problems.
1. It would only help cement rampant surveillance of citizens as the status quo.
2. It could create unintended consequences by preventing public scrutiny of what the state does with surveillance footage without actually limiting the state’s ability to surveil.
Summarily, HB 1112 is blunt:
The bill says that video or still images obtained by monitoring cameras, such as traffic webcams, may not be released under an open
records request, except to the person of interest in the records. The bill also defines “monitoring camera”.
Specifically, excepting instances where the surveillance footage recorded a criminal or an alleged criminal, releasing images taken by monitoring devices would require the written consent of the subjects of the images.
Which would put the cost and effort necessary to file a CORA request for footage through the roof. And that’s before considering how a CORA requester is supposed to know who is in the images sought.
There are also significant exceptions to the consent provision: judges, district attorneys, peace officers, and fire chiefs can step in and give consent in place of the subject of the image. In other words, this bill won’t keep well connected people from getting surveillance footage if they want it.
Frankly, this bill seems pointless at best, nefarious at worse. CORA will get harder and citizens will operate under a false sense of privacy. Investigative journalists getting copies of traffic camera images and the like aren’t your problem. The state that takes these images is the problem. The bill says nothing about curtailing the state’s ability to take, retain, and use that footage. But it would make sure we citizens would largely lose out ability to effect some oversight, about which I have grave concerns.
It’s also a diversion from the worthy debate over how much surveillance ought to be going on and what sort of uses the state should be allowed to make of that footage. We should be talking about what all those cameras are costing us, where those resources would be better spent, what evidence there is of efficacy, and what the state does with all the data it gathers.
A rule, and a good one, is that any data set will be used in ways it was never designed for. To flesh that out, if you build a data set, there will always be someone who can dream up a use you never considered. And there will always be someone who wants that data set for a problematic purpose. This should be at the forefront of our minds whenever we propose to create a new dataset. Having created reams of surveillance footage and trying to come up with a law to control who gets to use it is bailing out the ocean with an eye dropper…make that a cracked eye dropper.
There is no way to intuit all the ways people who get CORA data will use it or with whom they will share it. If the state has round the clock footage of every car on a stretch of the highway, high-res images of each person who entered the Capitol, a log of every IP address that accessed a state website, etc, etc, someone with bad intent will use CORA to get that data. And you can’t stop that without utterly perverting CORA.
Aside from cutting the data the state gathers, I don’t see a solution. One could suggest banning the use of personally identifiable CORA data for pattern analysis or anything meant to create wealth or identify people for the purpose of marketing to them. But you can’t know what someone will do with open records at the time of the request. It’s rightly illegal for the state to ask for a reason. Even if they did, any intelligent soul could lie about the purpose. And then what? Would the state monitor CORA users to ensure they all used the data received in the ‘right’ way? Clearly, that would be a deterioration from the situation we have know.
I applaud Rep. Lawrence and Sen. Scheffel for efforts at improving privacy, but I urge them to turn their attention to how much data the state collects and how much of it can be justified.
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