New Florida Law Exempts Body Camera Footage

28 May 2015

Florida Governor Rick Scott on May 21 signed into law a bill that would substantially exempt from disclosure footage taken with cameras worn by police officers.

Florida thus becomes the second state to create special exemptions for body camera footage. North Dakota passed such a law in April. (See previous report.)

In Texas, a bill containing disclosure exemptions is nearing approval. In South Carolina, the House and the Senate also have passed different versions and may be reconciled in the final days of the session.

Although bills on the subject were offered in about three dozen states, a number of them put off acting on the topic, some sending it out for further study.  Legislative sessions are winding down in many states without any action. A few states are continuing to deliberate on body camera legislation.

Broad Florida Exemptions 

The Florida bill would create a new, retroactive public record exemption that makes a body camera recording, or a portion thereof, confidential and exempt from public record disclosure, if the recording is taken within the interior of a private residence; within the interior of a facility that offers health care, mental health care, or social services; or in a place that a reasonable person would expect to be private.

The bill provides specific circumstances in which a law enforcement agency may disclose a confidential and exempt body camera recording, and additional circumstances in which a law enforcement agency must disclose such a recording.

Body camera recordings also may be disclosed by a law enforcement agency to another governmental agency “in the official duties and responsibilities” and to persons recorded (or their representative), but “only those portions that are relevant to the person’s presence in the recording.” Those not depicted may see the footage of the interior of their residence.

In addition, a court may order disclosure if “necessary to advance a compelling interest” and must consider eight limiting factors, such as possible harm to the reputation of a person depicted.

Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, had called for the governor to veto the bill, saying “the exemptions run contrary to the purpose of the cameras, which are meant to provide more oversight and accountability for the actions of the law enforcement officers.” The Foundation had previously issued objections to the bill.


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