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The New England First Amendment Coalition opposes a bill in Massachusetts that would make police-worn body camera footage exempt from the state’s public records law.
In addition to establishing a taskforce to explore the use of body cameras and law enforcement policies, House Bill 2120 would create a new exemption to the state’s public records law for footage captured by those cameras.
“Despite improvements to the public records statute in 2016, Massachusetts continues to lag behind most of the country in government transparency,” wrote NEFAC, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association and the New England Newspaper & Press Association in a July 18 joint letter to state legislators.
“With the passage of House Bill 2120, Massachusetts would become even more of an outlier,” they wrote.
The release of police body camera footage can often serve the public interest, the groups explained. By creating a new public records exemption, the legislation ignores those benefits entirely.
According to the letter:
“While our organizations are sympathetic to the privacy concerns that result from body camera use, we are convinced that House Bill 2120 is an, at best, misguided attempt to protect those interests. The Public Records Law already provides tools law enforcement can use to withhold sensitive information. . . . In addition, House Bill 2120 prevents the public from receiving any benefits from the release of footage because of its wholesale approach to the protection of privacy. The bill simply eschews the much-needed balance the current statute allows.”
The groups suggested that the taskforce be established without a new exemption created. They also requested that the taskforce include someone to represent the interests of journalists.
NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know. In Massachusetts, the coalition recently opposed legislation that would limit citizen rights under the state’s Open Meeting Law; discussed the First Amendment and journalism in Bedford, Shrewsbury and Sharon; helped provide training to reporters at Boston University; celebrated open government during Sunshine Week; and led a seminar for student journalists.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
here.Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation
Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the Barr Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.