DENVER (CBS4) – Cameras seem to follow the every move of Americans these days, but there isn’t a limit on how long the government can keep video. Now one Colorado lawmaker says it’s time there was.
There are red light cameras, license plate reading cameras and cameras inside and outside of public buildings. When Jessica Ridgeway disappeared on her way to school, Westminster police launched a massive search that included surveillance video of her neighborhood, the area where her backpack was recovered, and even vigils.
“Knowing that the information that we have is killers will sometimes come back to the scene of the crime,” Cmdr. Todd Reeves with Westminster police said.
The suspect, Austin Sigg, ultimately turned himself in, but Reeves says in many cases surveillance video helps solve the crime. Two years ago police found a serial rapist using a license plate reader.
But over the last year government surveillance has come under scrutiny after a whistleblower exposed widespread secret surveillance by the federal government.
“We should have the freedom to walk down the street and not have our every move recorded and retained for in perpetuity,” said Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County.
Lawrence has introduced legislation that would require all government surveillance video in Colorado, including from toll and red light cameras, be destroyed after a year unless its being used in an active investigation.
Reeves says the problem is some crimes — like sex assaults — aren’t reported within a year.
“It would be troublesome to lose that ability to be able to prosecute or identify a suspect, especially in cases of that magnitude,” Reeves said.
“The reality is right now, if a victim waits 5, 10 years to report a crime, that information isn’t there. I mean nobody is retaining it for that long,” Lawrence said.
The Colorado Police Chiefs Association says many departments do keep video for up to two years and only look at it if a crime is reported. They say the legislation is unnecessary and hurts cold case investigations.
Lawrence says there needs to be limits.
“This is just saying to our government, ‘Unless you have a good reason to surveil your citizens and keep that information, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ “ Lawrence said.
With video surveillance more and more an integral part of criminal investigations, expect a battle over the legislation.
It would only apply to government surveillance video, not that in stores and businesses.