US City Sued For Hiding Surveillance Camera Map

By Dan Gelinas, Published Mar 08, 2019, 11:14am EST

UPDATE: The judgment is now in and updated information is at the bottom of the post.

Should maps of public surveillance camera locations be kept a secret? That is what one US city is trying to do.

Though the city admits the cameras in question are publicly visible, New Orleans officials have denied a public defender's public records request for access to a map showing the locations of the cameras. The dispute has escalated into a lawsuit that the plaintiff, being represented in part by ACLU Louisiana attorneys. However, the city has said existing statutory language exempts them from complying with the request.

In this note, based on IPVM's interviews with the ACLU, an attorney for the plaintiff, and a former municipal/police Surveillance Manager, we examine:

  • Background
  • Request / denial details
  • Details of complaint
  • ACLU involvement
  • No response from the defendant
  • Comment from former municipal/police surveillance manager
  • Next step
  • UPDATE on judgment

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Request / ****** *******

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ACLU ***********

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Comment **** ****** *********/****** ************ *******

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UPDATE ** ********

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*******, *** ***** **** ***** was ** ******** ** support *** ****’* ********* in ***** ****** ******* request ****** **** *** information ********* *** ****** since ** *** ******* to *** "********** ** terrorist-related ********," ** **** below:

********, ********* *** *********'* assertion ** ***** ********* that "*** ********* ** New ******* **** * basic ***** ** **** where *** **** ******* are *******," ** **** below:

Poll / ****

Comments (24)

nice!  voting is at 50% each side.  polarizing? :)

I think Ms. Bixby's most compelling argument is one of fairness:

 

Agree: 6
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The fairness argument does not hold water and should be dismissed outright.

What the plaintiff is asking for here is a map of all cameras on the system. The City denied that, and for good reason. What the City did NOT deny was the ability to request footage from specific cameras on specific dates relating to specific incidents, which I would wager would almost certainly be provided without issue.

They are not limiting access to the footage, as the complaint suggests, they are limiting the provision of a map showing the exact locations of all cameras, which is not a necessary requirement for the defense to get the information they need.

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"The fairness argument does not hold water and should be dismissed outright."

excellent opening statement, counselor.

however, your supporting commentary - while true as the driven snow - ignores the very gist of this case - the writ of mandamus submitted by the plaintiff.

Public servants can not decide what they want or don't want to release when it comes to public records - and instead are regulated by written policy.

 

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The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides specific exemptions that do not require the release of information that is deemed to be in support of a variety of different things, including privacy, national security, and law enforcement. The response by the City that it is for "terrorism prevention" is no doubt a play to the second of those two items, which is nothing more than an insurance policy relative to the strength of the third.

In short, just because the plaintiff filed for a writ of mandamus does not mean that it will be granted. They can ask, but they are likely to (and should) lose that case. There are clear reasons that law enforcement would not want the locations of all of their cameras to be documented and shared publicly.

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"There are clear reasons that law enforcement would not want the locations of all of their cameras to be documented and shared publicly."

This is a false flag.  The issue in question is not that the locations of cameras can not be known - it is an issue of public servants following statutes vs their own perceived positions generated by their own operational biases.

The locations of these cameras can (and have already been) documented by crowd-sourced efforts based on simply looking around and finding the cameras in question.  The cameras are in public view.

 

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"What the City did NOT deny was the ability to request footage from specific cameras on specific dates relating to specific incidents, which I would wager would almost certainly be provided without issue."

This is a patently ridiculous defense of not releasing public records when compelled to do so by statute.

How is a defense attorney to know what cameras to 'request footage from' if the city denies access to a map of all cameras used by the city that they are using to gather evidence for potential prosecution?

I am pro law enforcement and I understand that they have one of the toughest jobs on the planet.  But the powers bestowed to law enforcement include an understood 'fairness' doctrine that we expect LE to engage in, in the enforcement of existing statutes. 

 

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Once again, you have a fundamental failure to comprehend how FOIA requests actually work.

The defense is not required to know the exact CAMERAS to request footage from -- they only need to supply the LOCATIONS and the TIMEFRAMES where they are requesting footage from, if it exists. Do you think that every public entity that receives open records requests provides a map of all cameras that they have available? Absolutely not. Some may, but the majority do not.

There are a lot of things to criticize law enforcement for, but in this case, "fairness" is not one of them. Fairness doesn't even enter into the discussion. The case relating to the release of a map of all cameras will almost certainly be laughed out of court, regardless of the SPLC and ACLU's involvement.

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So a defense attorney is supposed to trust that a request made to an agency that generally considers itself to be on "the same team" as the prosecutors is going to be rigorously investigated and if they say there is no footage, the defense is just supposed to believe that?

As officers of the court, the defense bar should have it's own investigator(s) with full access to these PUBLIC cameras/recordings for their own review.  I'm not suggesting any member of the public can come in off the street and review video, but there should be a review authority that is not controlled by the prosecutors to ensure fairness.  To turn an old argument on it's head: if the police aren't doing anything wrong and have nothing to hide, they shouldn't object.

There should also be regular and rigorous independent audits of ALL access requests for video from the system to ensure no one is accessing video for reasons not directly related to an investigation or enforcement. (formal or informal). Independent auditing is the best way to prevent/detect misuse.

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If the data isn't made publically available it will become a private commodity via startups/public projects. Wouldn't be too far fetched to create an overlay on openstreetmap and have crowd sourced data filled in. Kind of like how Waze or other apps show speedtraps based on users reporting the info.

OpenStreetCam 😄

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I agree that there are ways to crowd source a map of cameras - this is not in question.

Ms. Bixby's lawsuit is not about 'how a camera map can be created' - and instead is all about public entities performing their duties in a manner required by statute (the writ of mandamus mentioned above in the OP).

The position of the city that the release of a map of publicly-visible cameras could compromise their 'terrorism prevention' schemes is pretty thin, imo.

 

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The position of the city that the release of a map of publicly-visible cameras could compromise their 'terrorism prevention' schemes is pretty thin, imo.

I agree, their anti-terrorism reasoning is nano-thin.

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Then why not just say "we don't want to tell the criminals which places are without surveillance" that's common sense...this law suit is ridiculous

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You keep linking to a Wikipedia article explaining mandamus, but I don't think you understand what it actually is.

The writ of mandamus is NOT an actual statute that requires a public entity to release specific information -- a writ of mandamus is a court order that FORCES a public to entity to do something that they may have previously declined to do. Just because a lawsuit has been filed for a writ of mandamus DOES NOT mean that the lawsuit has any merit whatsoever -- it's nothing more than a lawsuit filed in a court just like thousands of others are done every day.

As stated previously, the City will almost certainly NOT be forced to share this information because there are specific exemptions within FOIA requirements that prevent them from being forced to do so.

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"As stated previously, the City will almost certainly NOT be forced to share this information because there are specific exemptions within FOIA requirements that prevent them from being forced to do so."

It's too bad that we can't face off against each other representing the opposing sides in this issue in an actual court of law.  That would be an interesting spectacle for sure. ; )

To your point about the city not being required to provide camera location information based on some ill-defined stance that they are exempt from disclosure via an exemption that has yet to be adjudicated:  I admire your confidence.

Let's be clear.... the location of all the cameras is ALREADY KNOWN.  This case is about more than the denial of the initial FOIA request - and that is why the LA ACLU and the SPLC are involved.

I don't think you understand the exemptions you are relying on as a means to deny Ms Bixby's requests in this case - though I understand that you think you do.

Let's both give up our careers and go to the same law school and then move to the same small town and battle it out over mundane issues for the rest of eternity.

I would enjoy the intellectual competition. :)

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Since you're so fond of links, here's one for you.

I'll even go one step further and I will list the specific Exemptions that I'm referring to, which are found primarily under Exemption number 7:

Exemption 7: Information compiled for law enforcement purposes that:

  • 7(A). Could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings
  • 7(B). Would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication
  • 7(C). Could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy
  • 7(D). Could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source
  • 7(E). Would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law
  • 7(F). Could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual

If you don't believe that the publication of a map showing camera locations within a city would fit within one of those law enforcement-specific exemptions as defined by the federal government itself, then...well, good luck.

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"If you don't believe that the publication of a map showing camera locations within a city would fit within one of those law enforcement-specific exemptions as defined by the federal government itself, then...well, good luck."

The cameras in question are publicly visible.

imo, your Exemption 7 examples do not rise to the level of protected information - since the obviously visible camera installations can be documented by simple crowd sourcing by interested parties - rendering your 'protected status' argument moot.

 

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Hidden surveillance of U.S. citizens is part of the sloppy slope of tyranny.

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i would like to advocate for a global resolution that requires everyone in the world to replace the word slippery with the word sloppy when referring to the potential of some thing leading to some other thing that wasn't the desired moral outcome that the original thing was intended to accomplish.

sloppy slope sounds way funnier than slippery slope.

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What if my wife files for divorce and sues me for cheating on her.

can she go to court and ask for the city surveillance footage to prove I was with another woman? 

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Usually, yes

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Part of my mind went to the semi-recent article of NYPD wanting Google to remove the DUI checkpoint feature from Waze. This is somewhat confusing since, from what I read, they are supposed to publicly post where checkpoints are located anyways. So it sounds like they need to make it public but don't want it to be too public. If they need to release where DUI checkpoints are supposed to be, why is it such a big deal to make available a map of locations of public cameras? 

I'm sorry but people do dumb things in front of cameras even when they know where they are. Crime is still committed. If you wear a mask and gloves, it can often make cameras somewhat useless other than determining what happened.

I'm just sure of the harm in posting the location of cameras. In my city, I know where many of the cameras are and many times, when crime occurs, the PTZ cameras are located in the opposite direction and authorities must rely on private cameras to gain insight as to what happened. 

The lights can get pretty annoying and at least the ones chosen for my city do have a dim setting option that has been set that way in certain camera locations.

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According to a report, some citizens of New Orleans do not like the blue & red-light adorned cameras, saying they feel "uncomfortable" and as though there is "no privacy," 

...and...

The lights can get pretty annoying and at least the ones chosen for my city do have a dim setting option that has been set that way in certain camera locations.

 

You'll have to forgive my ignorance here, I live in a small unincorporated community 100 miles from the nearest interstate.  Are these lights on all the time?  Or do they come on when motion is detected or some other trigger?  

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Yes, these lights are on all the time. The one's used in my city that I found comparable were from ledoutfitters.com. I used the SEM3 which has the hi/low setting. We have used a four light as well but it didn't have the hi/low setting.

Here is an image of one of our city cameras. Notice the SD Hikvision. On some of the trailer cameras they now have red and blue flashing lights and an Axis multi-sensor camera. That made a lot more sense.

I do like the enclosures.

The reason we have sourced them were because clients had seen the city cameras and when we were done installing the cameras they asked where the blue light was. So we added a blue light.

 

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We have included the following update in the story:

UPDATE: The judgment is now in and updated information is at the bottom of the post.

A New Orleans Civil District Court judge on May 3, 2019, ordered that the city provide the requested map of 400 publicly visible cameras, as seen below:

Further, the judge said there was no evidence to support the city’s assertion in their public records request denial that the information requested was exempt since it was related to the "prevention of terrorist-related activity," as seen below:

Moreover, confirmed the Plaintiff's assertion in their complaint that "the residents of New Orleans have a basic right to know where the RTCC cameras are located," as seen below:

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