In a victory for government accountability and transparency, a judge has ruled Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG) must release documents relating to 29 surveillance cameras owned and operated by the Lexington Police Department (“LPD”).
Community activist Michael Maharrey was sued last year by the City of Lexington after he attempted to obtain the documents through an Open Records Act request. LPD denied Maharrey’s request, citing a statute that exempts certain documents relating to homeland security, along with a second statute exempting certain “investigative reports.” Judge John Reynolds ruled on June 19, 2018, that LFUCG improperly applied the statutes in their denial to Maharrey’s request and ordered the records released.
“City officials claimed that releasing their training manuals and information about the models of surveillance cameras would threaten police officers and public safety, and would lead to a reasonable likelihood of a terrorist attack. We’re pleased the courts saw past these unfounded claims and upheld Kentucky’s strong Open Records law,” said ACLU of Kentucky Attorney Heather Gatnarek.
Mr. Maharrey founded a grassroots organization called We See You Watching Lexington to address surveillance issues after the city installed cameras at Berry Hill Skate Park last summer. The open records request was part of We See You Watching Lexington’s efforts to learn more about surveillance and ensure some accountability exists. Maharrey said he was thrilled with this decision.
“Now, hopefully, Lexington residents will get the kind of transparency they deserve. Whenever I talk about surveillance, people always ask me, ‘What do you have to hide?’ Well, I’ve been asking that question about the city since it sued me to try to keep its surveillance cameras secret. I don’t think a little transparency and oversight is too much to ask for. Thankfully, both the attorney general and a circuit court judge agree – we have a right to know how the city is watching us and what steps it’s taking to ensure our basic privacy rights are protected.”
We See You Watching Lexington is pushing for introduction and passage of a local ordinance that would take the first step toward limiting the unchecked use of surveillance technologies that may violate basic privacy rights.
ACLU of Kentucky Cooperating Attorney Clay Barkley of Strobo Barkley PLLC and ACLU of Kentucky Attorney Heather Gatnarek represent Maharrey.