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The Body Cam Era Is Here. Who Can Access Cops' Videos?

North Carolina and New Hampshire have taken fundamentally different approaches to the question.
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Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The debate over whether American police should wear body cameras is basically over. The technology is well on the way to ubiquity. But the fight over what happens to the videos those cameras record is just getting started. Many states, anticipating requests for access as the technology spreads, are grappling with the issue. At the same time that shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas transfixed the nation, North Carolina and New Hampshire quietly passed laws taking fundamentally different approaches to the question.

On Monday, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a law saying that videos captured by body or dashboard cameras were not public records and therefore wouldn’t be released. The only exception is for people whose voice or image appeared in the footage. And even for them, the process is pretty restrictive. The law lets departments deny requests for a variety of reasons, including concerns about the release of sensitive information and the need to protect “active or inactive” investigations or potential future investigations. If the police reject a request, the person who wants the video can go to court to demand it. In the case they do they win, the law forbids them from recording or copying the videos.