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Bill That Cuts Off Public Access to Some Body-Camera Footage Advances

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A bill that could limit public access to police body-camera footage is moving forward in the Utah Legislature.

Republican Senator Daniel Thatcher wants to see a stronger balance between government transparency and citizen privacy when law enforcement agencies are asked to turn over police body- camera footage to the public. His bill, Senate Bill 94 would presumptively make images depicting nudity, death or gruesome events private. Thatcher is worried that local governments have a financial interest in releasing police camera footage.

“If there is footage that is taken inside someone’s home that is humiliating or embarrassing to that citizen,” Thatcher says. “If it would hurt their reputation and does not serve the public interest for release, your city, as I understand current law, would have to spend their treasure and their resources to prevent that release.”

Michael O’Brian is an attorney for Utah media. His says sensitive records are already protected on a case by case basis by Utah’s current open records laws.

“The policy reason behind body cams is to provide public accountability, increase confidence in the police, but that can’t be achieved if certain types of records are taken wholesale away from the public based upon who creates them or how they’re created,” O’Brian says.

Law enforcement officials from the Utah and Salt Lake Police Association voiced their support for the bill Monday in the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. 

The bill passed 5 to 1 and will go to the Senate Floor for further debate.

Another bill, House Bill 300, sponsored by Republican Representative Daniel McCay would make private body camera footage taken inside a home. That bill is headed to the House floor for consideration. 

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