N.J. Surveillance Camera Bill Opposed by ACLU

ACLU would rather encourage residents and businesses with surveillance cameras to share footage upon police request.

TRENTON, N.J. – Crime-fighting legislation introduced by New Jersey Assemblyman Ralph Caputo that calls for owners of private surveillance cameras to register them with the local police department is being met with opposition by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

The bill (A-3843) introduced in November permits a municipality to enact an ordinance that would require the registration of private outdoor video surveillance cameras, according to NJ.com. Per the legislation, the owner of the camera, their contact information, location of the camera, number of cameras installed, areas recorded and how the footage is saved would be registered with the local police department. Not complying with the law could result a fine costing no more than $100. 

Caputo emphasized via NJ.com that taking on registration would be up to municipalities and not mandated by the state. Owners would not be obligated under the bill to turn over footage, unless they were subpoenaed.

“Ninety-nine percent of people are willing to have that video reviewed,” the assemblyman said via NJ.com.

The ACLU maintains that filming on private or public property is protected by the Constitution, as is the right to anonymous speech. Ari Rosmarin, public policy director for the state’s ACLU, said via NJ.com his group clearly recognizes the value that surveillance camera footage holds for law enforcement, but there’s nothing preventing people from sharing it with police and that the “solution proposed goes too far.”

“If we’re going to go down a route of forcing registration with the government, that’s a problem,” said Rosmarin, who also mentioned mandating registration and imposing a fine for not complying with the legislation is an “overreach” and a constitutional violation.

“A fine is a mechanism for compliance,” he said, adding that such a penalty is how efforts in this vein become mandatory.

What makes more sense, he told NJ.com, is simply encouraging residents and businesses with surveillance cameras to share whatever may have been caught on film when police come knocking.

There isn’t necessarily a need for a government database of camera owners and locations for law enforcement to carry out an investigation into a crime.

“It’s not wrong for law enforcement to want to be efficient in investigating, but we have to do so in a way that respects individual rights,” he said.

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