Police “Body Cam” Law Balances Privacy & Transparency

These days, you hear a lot in the news about police body-worn camera videos. Some media outlets and citizen advocacy groups propose that this video footage constitutes a public record and should be disclosed in most cases.  On the other hand, law enforcement agencies and privacy  rights advocates may argue these videos are confidential and should not be released to just anyone on request, particularly when the videos detail ongoing criminal investigations.  A new Ohio law seeks to balance these interests and, so far, has been well received by both sides.

The new Ohio law, signed by former Governor Kasich before he left office in January, makes all police body camera footage subject to the state’s public records law, a win for transparency advocates.  At the same time, the law creates a list of exceptions under which police “body cam” footage will be exempt from disclosure due to certain privacy interests.  Specifically, the new law restricts the disclosure of police body-worn camera footage that shows, in part:

  • The image or identity of a child;
  • The death of a person or a deceased person’s body, unless the death was caused by a police officer or the decedent’s estate consents to its release;
  • An act of severe violence against a person, unless the act was effected by a police officer;
  • Nude bodies, unless consent is obtained;
  • Protected health information;
  • Information that could identify the alleged victim of a sex offense, menacing by stalking, or domestic violence; and,
  • The interior of a private residence, unless the residence is the location of an adversarial encounter with, or use of force by, a police officer.

Under the law, citizens and media outlets can also appear before a court to argue that the public interest in release police body camera videos outweighs any competing privacy interests.

Compared to other states, this new legislation makes Ohio a trailblazer in directly addressing the release of body-worn camera footage.  Few other states have laws regulating the release of these videos, and most typically defer to their own general public records laws, which may be open to different interpretations.  Now, when you see any news reports involving policy body camera videos, you can rest assured that Ohio has a well-balanced law regulating their disclosure.

For additional information, contact attorney David Moser, who practices in the Public Law Group of Isaac Wiles, at 614.340.7413, DMoser@isaacwiles.com.