State law says citizens have right to privacy
Thank you for your editorial in the Feb. 6 edition of the Jamestown Press (“Do you have a right to know who is watching you?”). The title prompted me to research privacy rights in the state of Rhode Island. As a result, I am able to confirm that we do have the right to know who is watching us. Jamestown should have a comprehensive municipal policy to address the increasingly common use of surveillance equipment.
In addition to the protections afforded to all citizens by the state and federal constitutions, Rhode Island has a statute that provides further safeguards. The language of R.I. General Law 9-1-28.1 preserves the right to be “secure from unreasonable intrusion upon one’s physical solitude or seclusion.” A violation of the statute creates a private cause of action that can be enforced in state court.
It cannot be disputed that cameras serve an essential public safety function. The Town Council must balance this benefit against the right of all residents to be free from unnecessary intrusions. Consideration should be given to the particular placement of the cameras. For example, a policy that works for the schools may not be appropriate for cameras located at the state parks. Surveillance equipment that is not installed or operated by the town should be addressed by the council to ensure that Jamestowners are protected from invasions of privacy by other government entities.
The city of Providence in 2008 installed cameras all along its waterfront. Many of the cameras were mounted on private property. The city entered into memoranda of understanding with the property owners that detailed the use of the cameras. The town of Jamestown should have a written agreement with the state for any cameras that might infringe on our residents. We should have a separate policy for all cameras operated by the town.
Both policies should, at a minimum, include an inventory of all cameras in use; a restriction that the cameras be used only for legitimate and necessary law enforcement or public safety purposes; limitations on archiving the images; and who can access the images.
Karen Augeri Benson