Body-Worn Cameras, Forensic Evidence & the Right to Know

Forensic Fridays LogoOn Friday, January 27, I’ll be taking part in Forensic Friday, a regular program organized by Duquesne University’s Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law.

The topic is Balancing Safety, Justice and Privacy: Body-Worn Cameras, Forensic Evidence & the Right to Know.

Also part of the program are State Senator Randy Vulakovich; State Representative Dom Costa; former State Representative David Mayernik; Commander Clarence Trapp, head of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police’s Special Deployment Division; and Duquesne University School of Law Professor John Rago, who has been working closely with state legislators to develop legislation governing the use of body-worn cameras.

The program is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is approved by the Pennsylvania CLE Board for 3 hours of substantive CLE credit, by the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work for 3 hours of Social Work credit, and by the Pennsylvania Coroners Education Board for 1 hour of Coroners Education credit.

Here’s a fuller description from the University:

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How to Find Government Contracts in Pennsylvania

Open records_logo stackedAt least one state has recently considered legislation which would make it harder for the public to review contacts involving government agencies.

Here in Pennsylvania, the Right-to-Know Law makes all state government contracts valued at $5,000 or more easy to review online.

The state contract database is maintained by the state Treasurer, and it allows anyone with Internet access to search contracts by agency, contracting party, date range, and more.

Contracts involving local agencies like counties, school districts, cities, boroughs, and townships are not included in the database — but those are generally available by filing a simple Right-to-Know Law request.

Updating the Standard RTK Request Form

Open records_logo stackedPennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law gives the Office of Open Records the duty to “develop a uniform [request] form which shall be accepted by all Commonwealth and local agencies” (Section 505(a)).

The OOR’s standard Right-to-Know request form hasn’t been updated since 2013. We’re now in the process of reviewing and updating the form — with the goal of improving it by making it better for both requesters and agencies.

Previous version of the form can be found here:

(Here’s a direct link to download a PDF of the current version.)

If you have any thoughts or suggestions on how to improve the standard RTK request form, please share them with us. We’d love to hear from you.

(In addition to the OOR’s contact form, feel free to leave comments on this blog or on Twitter.)

RTK Request Received by the OOR for Home Addresses

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent decision in Pennsylvania State Education Association vs. The Office of Open Records, 2016 Pa. LEXIS 2337, 41 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 1310 (Pa. Oct. 18, 2016), opens with this text:

This case involves an examination of the scope of the “personal security” exception to disclosure under the Right to Know Law (“RTKL”), 65 P.S. §§ 67.101- 67.3104, and, more specifically, whether school districts must disclose the home addresses of public school employees. Under the prior Right to Know Act, 65 P.S. §§ 66.1-66.4 (repealed, effective January 1, 2009) (“RTKA”), this Court had on three occasions ruled that certain types of information, including home addresses, implicated the right to privacy under Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and thus required a balancing to determine whether the right to privacy outweighs the public’s interest in dissemination. Sapp Roofing Co. v. Sheet Metal Workers’ Int’l Ass’n, Local Union No. 12, 713 A.2d 627 (Pa. 1998) (plurality); Pa. State Univ. v. State Employees’ Retirement Board, 935 A.2d 530 (Pa. 2007); Tribune-Review Publ. Co. v. Bodack, 961 A.2d 110 (Pa. 2008). Our task here is to determine whether this analysis continues to obtain under the RTKL. We hold that it does.

The case most directly addresses the issue of Right-to-Know Law requests for the home addresses of public agency employees (e.g., teachers) when a request is directed to their employer (e.g., school district).

But it has broader implications as well, as the right of privacy inherent in Article 1, Section 1, of the Pennsylvania state constitution (“All men are born and equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness.”) also applies outside the specific context of a request for the home addresses of public agency employees directed to their employer.

You can read the majority opinion here, and a concurring opinion here.

As the Office of Open Records handles cases – both requests and appeals – dealing with the type of personal information addressed in PSEA, I’ll post our responses and decisions here in an attempt to help members of the public and public agencies navigate similar issues.

On October 19, 2016, the OOR received the following request (edited for brevity and clarity):

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Charter School Leaders Seminar

Open records_logo stackedEarlier today, I spoke at the Charter School Leaders Seminar in Harrisburg, an event hosted by the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.

I touched on some of the basics of Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law, the Sunshine Act, the functions of the Office of Open Records, and the regulatory process.

It was a great event, and I very much appreciate the invitation.

Here’s the presentation I used:

Charter School Leaders Seminar – Dec. 6, 2016 – PPTX
Charter School Leaders Seminar – Dec. 6, 2016 – PDF