Lawsuit over Lexington surveillance cameras ends

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) — A man who started a group to end the secrecy surrounding Lexington’s mobile surveillance camera program has ended his legal efforts, saying he’s disappointed it didn’t end in more trasparency but appreciative of the community awareness it sparked.

After Fayette Circuit Court Judge Lucy VanMeter ruled that the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government could withhold documents relating to “mobile surveillance cameras” from public scrutiny, Michael Maharrey, director of the group ‘We See You Watching,’ decided not to pursue the case further and make public information pertaining to the cameras.

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LFUCG filed suit against Maharrey in October 2017 hoping to overturn an attorney general open records decision ordering the Lexington Police Department to release documents relating to its 29 mobile surveillance cameras.

Fayette Circuit Court Judge John Reynolds twice ordered the Lexington Police department to release information about the cameras.

The city appealed and the Kentucky Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the lower court saying the city had not been given an opportunity to show releasing the information would place an “undue burden” on the city and could jeopardize officer safety.

Maharrey, who has since moved out of the state, said he doesn’t think to pursue the case further would serve the community.

“The city has already spent two-and-a-half years and who knows how many tax dollars fighting to hide information from the people it ostensibly serves. I’m disappointed in Judge VanMeter’s decision and I think it could be successfully challenged at the appellate level, but at this point, I really don’t think it’s necessary,” he said. “The case proves the point I was trying to make — Lexington desperately needs transparency and oversight for its surveillance programs.”

According to poorly redacted documents released to Maharrey in his initial request, the Lexington Police Department purchased a “covert utility box camera” in 2014. An email about the new camera referenced two “street light cameras” already owned by the LPD, Maharrey said in a statement.

The exact nature of the other 26 cameras remains unknown.

“You should find it disturbing to know that your police department can stick a camera in a streetlight outside your house. What we don’t know is when and how they use this technology. We have no idea what privacy protections they have in place. We don’t know how they handle the data they gather. We don’t even know if they require warrants. In fact, some of the testimony during my court case indicates they do not,” Maharrey said in the statement.

‘We See You Watching’ will continue pushing for an ordinance to require the LPD to create a detailed use policy for any surveillance technology it uses and to get council approval after a public meeting before acquiring or using any surveillance devices, Maharrey concluded.

‘We See You Watching’ Lexington is a coalition of people concerned about privacy and government surveillance in Lexington. The group’s goal, according to Maharrey, is to “watch the watchers,” and ensure surveillance programs operated by the Lexington Police Department and other government agencies are transparent, accountable, and kept within strict parameters.