Logan Harper is the community relations coordinator for MPA@UNC, an online master’s degree in public administration offered through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also a contributor to Online MPA Degrees — a top resource for MPA rankings. Follow Logan for program updates and news: @MPAatUNC.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires the federal government to disclose government records to private individuals after they submit a formal request. While the FOIA only applies to the federal government, each state in the U.S. has developed similar laws governing the disclosure of government records under “right-to-know” laws. In the years following 9/11, the use of security cameras has become increasingly common. As a result, the question of whether or not the videos created by these cameras are “public records” under the local right-to-know laws has become an important topic for discussion.
Videos are Public Records
Generally speaking, records created and kept in the course of government business must be disclosed under right-to-know laws unless there is an exception that prevents disclosure of all or part of the record requested. Video recordings, whether on tape or in a digital medium, with or without an audio component, are considered public records for the purpose of right-to-know laws, even though they are not a traditional “writing.” Thus, the question becomes whether or not there is an exception that prevents their disclosure.
The Privacy Exception
Privacy is one exception that is often raised by local governments to reject a request for disclosure and is an increasing concern with respect to the disclosure and production of security videos.