Passive surveillance bill passes Colorado House

Update: The Colorado House gave final approval to HB 14-1152 on a 63-2 vote Monday (Feb. 24).  The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

A bill to require the eventual destruction of images captured by government-run passive surveillance cameras won unanimous approval in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

An amended version of HB 14-1152 mandates the purging of most video and still images after three years. However, access to the images would be restricted after the first year unless they are shown to be needed as evidence in felony criminal proceedings or civil, labor or administrative proceedings.

Rep. Polly Lawrence, the Douglas County Republican who introduced the bill, said the measure tries to strike a balance between protecting peoples’ privacy and law enforcements’ need to preserve evidence and use the data in criminal investigations.

PollyLawrenceInCommittee

Westminster Police Commander Todd Reeves testifies before the House Judiciary Committee. At left is Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County.

“It may not go far enough for (citizens) in protecting their individual liberty as they move about the streets of Colorado,” Lawrence said. “But I think it does meet some of the needs of victims groups and sheriffs and police and the (district attorneys) across the state.”

Passive surveillance images, as defined in the legislation, include those taken by photo radar cameras, license plate readers and HALO street cameras operated by police. Not included are images taken by police car dashboard cameras or cameras worn by police officers.

Westminster Police Commander Todd Reeves testified that images from license plate readers provided valuable information during the investigation into the disappearance and murder of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway in 2012. Law enforcement agencies might need passive surveillance images long after a crime has been committed, he said.

“We know through experience that individuals will return to the scene of a crime,” Reeves told the committee. “And unfortunately in cases like … a child abduction, anniversaries are significant dates and anniversaries extend beyond that year period.”

But Denise Maes, public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, argued that the privacy of “perfectly innocent individuals” can be compromised if surveillance images are retained for years.

“The tracking of peoples’ movements is a significant invasion of privacy,” she said. “It says a lot about you. It says a lot about who your friends are, where your doctors are, what protests you attend and what bars or other establishments you may visit.”

As introduced, Lawrence’s bill would have required the destruction of most passive surveillance images six months after they were recorded. The new three-year time frame matches the statute of limitations for many felonies.

Lawrence called her bill “a good starting point,” but added that technological advances will force such privacy concerns to come up again. “I do think this is going to be an ongoing conversation,” she said.

Fewer county commission meetings

Also on Tuesday, the Colorado House gave quick preliminary approval to HB 14-1177, which changes a longstanding requirement that county commissions meet at least twice a week, except in July and August.

Under the bill, boards in counties with populations of 100,000 or more could meet fewer than two times a week if certain circumstances arise such as inclement weather, a lack of a quorum caused by illness or “any other circumstance” that a majority of the board decides is a reasonable justification for not holding a meeting. If a cancellation decision is made more than 24 hours prior to a meeting, the board is required to promptly provide notice to the public.

Rep. Spencer Swalm, the Centennial Republican who introduced HB 14-1177, said county commissions now sometimes finish business for the week in one meeting, then “immediately gavel  another meeting to order after the first meeting is concluded, say there is no business to be considered and then gavel that meeting to a close. This bill would simply give them more flexibility in terms of how often they have to meet.”

Archiving legislative proceedings

HB 14-1194 also passed the House on a preliminary vote. It continues the Legislative Digital Policy Advisory Committee, created in 2013 to develop plans for digitizing archived records of legislative proceedings.

Follow the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition on Twitter @CoFOIC. Like CFOIC’s Facebook page. Visit CFOIC’s legislature page to track bills in the General Assembly that could affect the flow or availability of information in Colorado.

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