A Kentucky city is appealing a court order in an effort to keep secret the details of the 29 spy cameras it owns and operates.
The battle with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government began when Mike Maharrey, the national communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center, noticed the monitors in a skateboard park.
He launched an organization, “We See You Watching Lexington,” which asked the local government for information about the cameras and its program.
Officials refused, claiming they were exempted because of “homeland security” and “investigative reports.”
On appeal, the state attorney general’s office rejected both exemption claims, but local government officials then not only refused to release the information, they sued Maharrey.
Maharrey acknowledged in a web post that law enforcement agencies use surveillance for many legitimate law enforcement purposes.
“But the intrusive nature of surveillance technology opens the door for abuse, including gross violations of basic privacy rights,” he said. “We want to ensure all surveillance programs in Lexington are transparent, and that government agencies remain accountable to the public and elected officials.”
His organization proposed an ordinance that would restrict the “unchecked use” of spy programs. It would have required police and other agencies to get approval from the city council before obtaining such equipment.
However, the organization’s website explains, the police “want to keep their surveillance programs hidden.”
The latest move came from the Fayette Circuit Court, which ruled in favor of Maharrey’s request for summary judgment and ordered the police agency to release the documents.
Judge John Reynolds said the city failed to prove its claims for exemptions and “failed to assert an applicable provision of the KRS or other binding precedent which would allow the denial of the information requested by Maharrey.”
However, once again, instead of complying, the city has filed a notice of appeal with the Kentucky Court of Appeals.
“I’m disappointed, but not surprised,” Maharrey said. “For whatever reason, the city has dug its heels in and won’t back down – even after getting smacked down by the attorney general’s office and a circuit court judge – twice. It makes you wonder what they are so desperate to hide.”
He said the “lesson in all of this is that we should have had this discussion before the police department ever acquired and started using these cameras.”
“I shouldn’t have to personally fight a legal battle just to find out what the government is doing – especially when it comes to technology that can easily be used to violate basic privacy rights,” he said.
“As Patrick Henry said, ‘The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.'”
Maharrey said the city council hasn’t shown much interest in addressing the issue.
“I guess it’s easier to let the city attorneys fight a costly legal battle than actually do the work necessary to establish accountability and transparency.”