In a win for public records, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that Metro Transit has to hand over surveillance video taken inside its buses. KSTP-TV sought the video in reporting a story about suspected misconduct by two bus drivers in 2013. But Metro Transit argued the video were "personnel data," meaning that only footage that led directly to a disciplinary action could be released.
The implication of Metro Transit's policy, if upheld, was disturbing: Any video that government takes of a public place, whether a bus or a sidewalk, becomes secret if a government employee happens to be shown. Fortunately, the three Court of Appeals judges, Michael Kirk, Francis Connolly and Margaret Chutich, found that argument contradicted by the "plain language" of the state's public records law, which in some circumstances protects the privacy of public workers.
The court wrote:
But any concern for protecting a public employee's personal information is lessened by the public seeing and nature of the employee's actions here. While driving a public transit bus throughout the public highways and byways of the metropolitan area, the driver's actions are hardly private; how a driver performs his duties is highly visible to passengers, and even to nearby pedestrians and motorist.
To their credit, the judges noted the potential for abuse by governments looking to hide their actions in controversial incidents: "During the course of a personnel investigation, for example, a government entity could potentially claim that virtually any data serve a role in its investigation, and thereby reclassify those data as private 'personnel data.'"
Read the entire opinion here: