Shawn Musgrave

Just submitted via email: 

Are there any rules governing public access to surveillance video tape? How could someone request that, and what would a government agency say?

Anyone have experience requesting surveillance footage?

Kel McClanahan

Surveillance footage is a government record like anything else.  The only major problem would be privacy issues.  If the agency does not know the identity of the people in the footage, it has to redact them, which for video is a more time-consuming and expensive process.

Shawn Musgrave

Emailed answer from Barbara Croll Fought, Syracuse University Professor of Broadcast & Digital Journalism: 

News organizations have frequently requested such video, and gotten it, from government.  If government has recorded the video tape, this would fall under the regular FOI or FOIA request…whether from state or federal agency. Generally if government has recorded the video, and it is not part of criminal investigation or meets some exception to the law, it should be available.    

If the question is about private security cameras, then there is no right of access under those laws.  Oftentimes police agencies will get camera video from private entities and ask media to air it  to help identify a person, etc.   BCF

Shawn Musgrave

Emailed answer from Megan Rhyne of Virginia Coalition for Open Government:

In Virginia, there is no blanket exemption for surveillance videos. They would be evaluated the same as other public records, meaning some would be exempt and others would have to be disclosed.

Shawn Musgrave

Emailed answer from Lee van der Voo:

I have some experience with this in Oregon and under state law, at least, surveillance tapes are treated as any other kind of record so long as the tapes are property of a government entity. Sometimes they can be withheld under rules that exempt disclosure of items that are part of pending investigations. But they are available and kind of handy here in taking a close look at crimes that occur on public transit, train platforms, etc. 

I’m not sure why federal law would be any different but I don’t have any experience trying it. 

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